illustration of an open-faced monkey's paw with a skull design on the palm

The Monkey's Paw

by W. W. Jacobs

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Foreshadowing and causes of Herbert's death in "The Monkey's Paw"

Summary:

Herbert's death is foreshadowed by ominous events and warnings about the paw's curse. The first wish for money results in Herbert’s fatal accident at work, which is the cause of his death. The story uses foreshadowing to build suspense and hint at the tragic outcome of tampering with fate.

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What foreshadows the tragic consequences of the wishes and Herbert's death in "The Monkey's Paw"?

Examples of the foreshadowing of death in W. W. Jacobs' short story "The Monkey's Paw":

  • While playing chess with Herbert, the father put his king into "unnecessary perils."
  • Over the chess board, Herbert's father, realizing he had made a "fatal mistake," remarks " 'Hark at the wind.' "
  • Sergeant-Major Morris mentions that interfering with the paw put people in peril, and " 'did so to their sorrow.' "
  • Morris tells the Whites that the previous owner's third wish involved death.
  • Morris further warns " 'don't blame me for what happens.' "
  • Herbert jokes that his first wish may " 'drop on his head from the sky.' "

The previous examples all come from the first two chapters of the story. There are other examples that foreshadow Herbert's return following the terrible accident.

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What foreshadows Herbert's death in "The Monkey's Paw"?

Probably the strongest answer to this question happens right after Mr. White makes his first wish. The line refers to Herbert and says this:

"Well, I don't see the money," said his son, as he picked it up and placed it on the table, "and I bet I never shall."

He doesn't ever see the money because his death, in fact, is the reason the Whites come into the money he wished for.  The irony is that he was the one who talked his father into making the wish.  Both parents don't seem to take it seriously at first.  But it is Herbert who suggests wishing for the 200 lbs. Because of his death, the parents do get the 200 lb settlement.  So not only is there foreshadowing here; there is also irony.

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What foreshadows Herbert's death in "The Monkey's Paw"?

There are several examples that foreshadow the death of Herbert in W. W. Jacobs' classic short story "The Monkey's Paw," but few that are spoken by Herbert himself. Perhaps the best example comes at the end of Chapter I just after the Whites acquire the paw from Sergeant-Major Morris and make their first wish--for 200 pounds. Herbert is skeptical about the paw's abilities.

"Well, I don't see the money," said his son as he picked it up and placed it on the table, "and I bet I never shall."

Herbert later wonders how money could hurt someone and jokes that it may fall onto his father's head from the sky. He later suggests that such a windfall may make his father a " 'mean, avaricious man.' "

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What causes Herbert's death in The Monkey's Paw?

Mr. and Mrs. White's young son, Herbert, dies in a tragic workplace accident at a factory operated by the firm of Maw and Meggins. Apparently, he was caught in the machinery, which was an all too common occurrence in those days. As one can imagine, Mr. and Mrs. White are absolutely devastated to hear such tragic news. Herbert's death has come as a complete shock to them.

It's only now that we realize that Herbert's death must be in some way related to the mysterious monkey's paw. Urged on by his son, Mr. White had made a wish on the paw for the princely sum of £200, with which he planned to pay off his mortgage. And, in due course, Mr. White's wish will come true, though not in the way he expected.

Mr. White receives the money by way of compensation for Herbert's fatal workplace accident. In other words, he's only receiving the money because of Herbert's death. This alerts us to the moral of the story, which is that you should be careful what you wish for, because you may just get it. Unfortunately for the Whites, it will take them two more wishes on the monkey's paw before they finally learn their lesson.

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How does Herbert die in "The Monkey's Paw"?

Herbert White's death occurs during a freak accident at his job at the Maw and Meggins company. He gets caught in the machinery while working and is so mangled that he is killed quickly. (This sort of death was not uncommon in the early twentieth century: factory machinery could easily mutilate or kill unwary workers, including children.) The accident is so brutal that when Mr. White is brought in to identify his son's corpse, he claims that he can only tell the body was Herbert's due to his clothing.

The couple naturally blames the monkey's paw for the tragedy. They had wished for two hundred pounds, and this is the sum the Whites are given as compensation for Herbert's death by the Maw and Meggins representative who delivers the bad news.

Ten days after the accident, Mrs. White decides to use the monkey's paw to wish her son back to life, but this frightens Mr. White, because Herbert's body is now both mutilated and decaying. Thus, the violence of the accident and the state of Herbert's body become sources of horror within the story, especially once the wish is made and the Whites hear someone knocking at the door. The terror of seeing their beloved son as a monstrous, rotting thing is too much for Mr. White, who presumably uses his third wish to send Herbert back to the grave before Mrs. White can open the door.

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How did Herbert die in "The Monkey's Paw"?

The following quote from "The Monkey's Paw" is a clue to the kind of factory in which the accident occurred.

"I--was asked to call," he said at last, and stooped and picked a piece of cotton from his trousers. "I come from 'Maw and Meggins.'"

The visitor from Maw and Meggins must have picked up the little piece of cotton at the factory, since there would have been none around the Whites' home. Herbert must have worked in a textile manufacturing plant, where there would have been plenty of bits of cotton in the air. The visitor himself is obviously an e executive and would be wearing a woolen suit, which could easily pick up a bit of floating lint. He is a fastidious man and would work in an office, not near the machinery. His gesture of removing the piece of cotton from his trousers suggests that he had to visit the scene of the accident. There were many such textile plants in England, of course. That was where and how the Industrial Revolution started. The cotton came from the Deep South in America, but slavery had ended there with the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. 

There was a natural explanation for Herbert's accident. He had stayed up late the night before and had drunk more whiskey than usual because of the visitor from India. When he went to work he might have been groggy and somewhat drowsy. The Sergeant-Major had explained that the wishes were fulfilled in such a way that they could seem like sheer coincidences.

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How did Herbert die in "The Monkey's Paw"?

In the short story, "The Monkey's Paw,'  Herbert works for a company called Maw and Meggins.  A worker is sent to the White's house and told to let them know their son, Herbert has been in an "accident."  He tells them that "Herbert is not in any pain."  The man also tells them that Herbert got caught in the "machinery."  He is dead and the company while accepting no responsibility for the accident offers the Whites 200 pounds for the loss of their son.

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