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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Discussion Topic

Herbert's character and development in "The Monkey's Paw"

Summary:

Herbert is a playful and skeptical young man who initially mocks the monkey's paw's supposed powers. As the story progresses, his character's development is cut short tragically when he dies in an accident, indirectly caused by his father's wish. His death marks a significant turning point, highlighting the dark consequences of tampering with fate.

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In "The Monkey's Paw", how does Herbert's attitude towards the paw change after the fire incident?

Herbert sees images in the fire that change his mind about the paw.

One stormy night the White family is playing chess in their isolated house when a stranger shows up.  He is actually Sergeant-Major Morris, who has been away for twenty-one years but knew Mr. White once.  He has been in India, where he found some strange stories and even stranger trinkets.  One is a monkey’s paw that supposedly has magical powers.  He tells the Whites to destroy it.  They can get three wishes from it, but they may not want to.

"Hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud,' said the sergeant-major, "but I warn you of the consequences."

Herbert does not believe the story of the monkey’s paw at first.  He tries to dissuade his parents from using it.  They are interested though.

"If the tale about the monkey's paw is not more truthful than those he has been telling us," said Herbert, as the door closed behind their guest, just in time for him to catch the last train, "we sha'nt make much out of it."

When they rescue the paw from the fire and his father is wishing on it, Herbert just makes jokes.  He suggests that his father should wish to be an emperor, for example, telling him, “then you can't be henpecked.”

After everyone goes up to bed though, he starts to stare into the fire and is disturbed to see what seem to be the faces of monkeys in it. 

He sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing faces in it. The last face was so horrible and so simian that he gazed at it in amazement. … His hand grasped the monkey's paw, and with a little shiver he wiped his hand on his coat and went up to bed.

After throwing water on the fire, he retrieves the monkey’s paw and then goes up to bed.  Apparently, he had second thoughts about whether it might be real or not.  It is a little too spooky outside with the storm and the mysterious stranger.  He is starting to wonder if the paw is indeed real.

It is ironic that Herbert is the one who sees the images, because he is the one suffers the most from the paw.  He was suspicious of it from the beginning, and he should have been.  The paw is dangerous.  It causes his death.  It is not that the paw is fake.  It isn't.  It is evil.

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How does Herbert behave in the last two paragraphs of "The Monkey's Paw"?

We are to infer, of course, that it is Herbert, out of his grave,  who stands on the other side of the closed and bolted door. Since he is "wished away" by Mr. White's final wish on the monkey's paw, we never actually see him. When the door is flung open, no one stands on the porch and the road is "quiet and deserted."

However, before Mrs. White can open the door, we hear Herbert, even though we can't see him. What had begun as a few knocks, became "[a] perfect fusillade of knocks that reverberated through the house." The implication is that Herbert is pounding on the door, intent upon coming inside. When Mr. White finally finds the monkey's paw and makes his final wish, the knocking stops: "The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house." Herbert has been sent back to his grave.

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How does Herbert behave in the last two paragraphs of "The Monkey's Paw"?

In those paragraphs, Herbert is very emotional. In the next to the last paragraph, I'd say he is frantic. We're told "… her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw." That's upset: crawling around on your hands and knees.

In the last paragraph, we're told he shows "courage," but I'd say there is more there. The moment passes, and he is partially collapsed, as you might be after getting off a roller coaster. He's been really excited; now he is really exhausted. As far as his actions, he's active, then passive.

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What kind of person is Herbert in "The Monkey's Paw"?

W. W. Jacobs does not reveal a significant amount of information about Herbert's character but depicts him as an intuitive, playful individual who has a strong relationship with his parents. Herbert reveals his close bond with his parents in part 1 of the story by casually playing his father in a friendly game of chess and exchanging a "knowing glance" with his mother after he wins the match. During Sergeant-Major Morris's visit, Herbert is depicted as an attentive listener and inquires about Morris’s wishes using the monkey’s paw. Herbert also shows his light-hearted, carefree nature by joking about the monkey's paw and kidding with his parents.

Herbert is also portrayed as a somewhat rational individual by suggesting that his father make a wish for two hundred pounds to pay off the mortgage. Before Herbert heads to work, he jokes with his father about becoming a mean "avaricious" man if the wish comes true and threatens to disown him. Herbert's parents seem to enjoy his playful nature and his mother tells Mr. White:

Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect, when he comes home. (Jacobs 7)

Tragically, Herbert dies during a work-related accident and his parents are devastated when they receive the news. Mrs. White's emotional pain and desperation following his death reveal her love for Herbert and she is willing to see his zombie corpse after being buried for ten days. Fortunately, Mr. White wishes for Herbert to return to his grave before his wife opens the door.

Overall, Herbert is depicted as an innocent, playful man, who has a very close relationship with his mother and father before becoming the victim of a malevolent charm.

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