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The Monkey's Paw

by W. W. Jacobs

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In "The Monkey's Paw," what happens when Mr. White uses the monkey's paw?

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In "The Monkey's Paw," when Mr. White uses the monkey's paw to wish for two hundred pounds to pay off the mortgage, Herbert dies in a tragic work accident. However, the wish comes true when the company offers the Whites two hundred pounds in compensation. When Mr. White makes his second wish, Herbert's zombie corpse returns from the grave and knocks at their door. After Mr. White makes his third wish, Herbert's undead corpse suddenly disappears.

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In W. W. Jacobs's classic short story "The Monkey's Paw," Sergeant-Major Morris brings an enchanted monkey's paw to the White residence and explains that an old fakir placed a spell on the talisman "to show that fate ruled people's lives." Sergeant-Major Morris then warns Mr. White about wishing upon the monkey's paw and even throws the malevolent talisman into the fire.

However, Mr. White retrieves the paw from the fire and proceeds to wish for two hundred pounds to pay off the mortgage. Mr. White is completely unaware that the evil monkey's paw will negatively affect his life and result in tragedy. The following day, Mr. and Mrs. White are visited by a messenger and receive the devastating news that their son Herbert has died in a work-related accident. The messenger also informs the couple that Herbert's company will be giving them two hundred pounds as compensation for his death.

Almost two weeks after Herbert's tragic death, Mrs. White wakes up in the middle of the night and suddenly realizes that her husband's first wish came true. Mrs. White also recognizes that they still have two more wishes and instructs her husband to use the monkey's paw to wish Herbert back from the grave. Mr. White reluctantly holds the enchanted talisman and makes his second wish by saying, "I wish my son alive again" (8).

Later that night, the couple hears knocking at their front door, and Mrs. White dashes down the stairs to let Herbert inside. The second wish has also come true, enabling Herbert to return from the grave as an undead corpse. Mr. White understands that Herbert is not the same and fears witnessing his son's zombie corpse. As Mrs. White struggles to unlock the door, Mr. White manages to find the monkey's paw and make his third and final wish. Jacobs does not explicitly state Mr. White's third wish, but it results in Herbert's disappearance. Immediately after uttering the third wish, the knocking ceases, and Herbert's zombie corpse vanishes.

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Mr. White makes three wishes on the monkey's paw, each one of which gives him considerably more than he bargained for. His first wish, which is nothing more than a joke, is for £200 to pay off his mortgage, a tidy sum of money in those days. Mr. White does in due course receive the money but not in the manner he expected. His son, Herbert, is tragically killed in a workplace accident, for which Mr and Mrs. White receive £200 as compensation.

Grief-stricken by the loss of their son, Mr and Mrs. White decide to use the monkey's paw to make a second wish: to bring their son back from the dead. But when there's a strange, sinister knocking sound at the door, they both realize that their son will be in such a hideous condition that they won't want to see him after all. It's time, then, for the monkey's paw to be used one last time. Mr. White makes his third and final wish, cancelling the previous one. The knocking at suddenly stops and when Mr. White opens the door, he finds there's no one there.

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Mr. White was fascinated with the monkey’s paw. When the Sergeant-Major threw it into the fire, he hastily retrieved it. He wanted the three wishes. The Sergeant-Major warned him about the consequences and, “…pressed me again to throw it away.” (pg 3) But Mr. White was determined to test the monkey’s paw for the three wishes. However, when it came time to make a wish, Mr. White said, “I don’t know what to wish for, and that’s a fact…it seems to me I’ve got all I want.” (pg 3)

So his son tells him, jokingly, to wish for two hundred pounds. Nothing immediately happens, so everyone thinks it is a hoax. However, the next day, a man arrives from Maw and Meggins. He informs Mr. and Mrs. White that their son got caught in some machinery at work and died. The firm admits no liability for the accident, but due to the son’s dedicated services, the company wanted to give Mr. and Mrs. White some compensation. It was two hundred pounds. Their wish had come true.

The death of their son hit them both hard. Suddenly the old woman yelled out that they could use the monkey’s paw to wish their son back to life. The old man wasn’t sure he wanted to wish his son back to life since the son had been so badly mangled in the machinery that he didn’t even recognize him. He is reluctant to use the monkey’s paw again for fear of what may happen. However, he does as she wishes and wishes his son alive again.

They wait patiently for a response to the wish, and then there is a knock on the door. The old man is afraid to open it, although his wife is eager to see her son again. Finally the third knock is very loud, and the woman insists on opening the door. The man is so fearful of what is on the other side of the door that he grabs the talisman and makes his third and final wish: that his son not come back to life. The knocking suddenly ceases and the road outside the house is deserted.

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In "The Monkey's Paw," in what way is Mr. White's wish fulfilled? How is this ironic?

Mr. White's first wish is fulfilled because he receives the money that he has wished for.  For lack of anything more interesting, White ends up wishing for "200 pounds."  This actually seems to be a pretty common wish for people without a more specific option: money.  It doesn't sound like a lot, and indeed, even at the time of the story's writing it wouldn't have exactly been a fortune, but it would have been a nice sum of cash.  Why not wish for a million?  I don't know...he doesn't seem to want to be greedy.  Of course, he doesn't think that paw will work, anyway.

Amazingly, he gets his wish, which also leads to the irony.  It is ironic because he receives the 200 smackers  as a settlement payment for his son's death.  His beloved son has fallen prey to some nefarious industrial accident and his corpse has been pretty messed up in the process. "'He was caught in the machinery,' said the visitor at length in a low voice." The owners of the factory, admitting no liability or guilt, have decided to give the parents the 200 pounds as compensation.

Therein lies the irony.  His wish comes true, and he gets the money, but at the cost of his son.

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In what way is Mr. White's first wish fulfilled in "The Monkey's Paw"?

Mr. White's first wish was fulfilled in a shocking and tragic way. When he first decided to make a wish, he could think of nothing to wish for. He said, ironically, "It seems to me I've got all I want." More irony is introduced when his son Herbert suggests that his father wish for two hundred pounds to pay off the mortgage on the house. If the house were free and clear, Herbert suggested, his father's happiness would be complete. Mr. White then makes the wish on the monkey's paw for two hundred pounds.

The next day Mr. and Mrs. White and Herbert laugh about the idea of receiving the money. Later that day, after Herbert had gone to work, a stranger comes to the door. He is a representative of Herbert's employer, and he brings the news that Herbert has been killed after being caught in the machinery where he worked. The company representative then gives the Whites a sum of money "in consideration of your son's services." The amount of money he brings to them? Two hundred pounds. As Sergeant Major Morris had said, wishes made on the monkey's paw were fulfilled very naturally:

. . . so naturally . . . that you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence.

Neither of Herbert's parents, however, thought his death was coincidental. The first wish had come true.

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In "The Monkey's Paw," how does the first wish come true?

Throughout the story it is impossible to know for certain whether the Whites' wishes were granted by some supernatural force or whether they were nothing but pure coincidences. The monkey's paw cannot be blamed for Herbert's being caught in the machinery the following day. There is a logical explanation. The whole family stayed up later than usual because they had a visitor. This would mean that Herbert drank a little more than usual that night and got less sleep because of staying up perhaps two or three hours later than usual listening to their interesting visitor. So Herbert could have been more careless and less alert at work the next day. The accident was indirectly due to the monkey's paw but not directly. That, in fact, is the scary part of the story. It could have something to do with blind cause and effect rather than some omniscient and omnipotent hidden power. The fact that the representative of Herbert's employers pays a visit is not supernatural. Someone would be expected to visit the Whites' to pay condolences. The fact that the company pays them the exact sum that Mr. White wished for could easily be a coincidence. If he wished for an odd amount, such as 187 pounds, then it would seem strange indeed if the company sent a check for that amount. But he wished for a round figure, and they would have paid a round figure of one hundred, two hundred, three hundred--but not much more! Then when there is a knocking at the door in the middle of the night, they assume that it is Herbert returning home in answer to their wish. But it could have been a motorist wanting to use their phone or to ask directions. It takes a long time to get the door open because Mrs. White can't reach the top latch and Mr. White doesn't want to open it at all. The knocker is gone, but he could easily have given up and left after getting no response. Many happenings in life seem mysterious and magical.

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In "The Monkey's Paw," how does the first wish come true?

When Mr White foolishly tests out the monkey's paw by wishing for £200, he and his son joke about how it will be found wrapped up on top of some dusty item of furniture. Yet the real truth is far more disturbing and sinister. Instead of being found somewhere or coming into the Whites' possession without any real cost on their part, the £200 comes to them at such a massively disproportionate price it emphasises the full horror of the money's paw and what it does. The £200 is given to them by the company where their son works as a token of sympathy because of their son's terrible death when, the very next day, he was trapped in the machinery and died. Note what the messenger from the company says:

"I was to say that Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility," continued the other. "They admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son's services they wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation."

The "certain compensation," as Mr and Mrs White are terrified and appalled to hear, is of course precisely £200. The truth of what they had been told about the monkey's paw, that it was meant to show humans the folly of trying to interfere in their fate, is shown to be completely just.

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In "The Monkey's Paw," why does Mr. White end up making his first wish?

Mr. White does not fully believe the story of the monkey's paw, but since he is susceptible to suggestion, he allows himself to be drawn into the idea that the paw may hold supernatural powers. Despite this, he takes the paw from his friend Morris as a gesture of solidarity; he knows that Morris has been through a lot of tragedy, and he wishes to take some of that away. Morris, for his part, is well-aware of the paw's capabilities, and hopes that White will remain skeptical and not use it.

"I don't know what to wish for, and that's a fact," he said slowly. "It seems to me I've got all I want."

"If you only cleared the house, you'd be quite happy, wouldn't you?" said Herbert, with his hand on his shoulder. "Well, wish for two hundred pounds, then; that'll just do it."

His father, smiling shamefacedly at his own credulity, held up the talisman...
(Jacobs, "The Monkey's Paw," gaslight.mtroyal.ca)

As seen in the prior excerpt, White is hesitant and only wishes because, in his mind, no harm can come of it. He cannot fully understand the consequences of "meddling with fate," as Morris puts it; instead, he thinks that the wish will either have no effect, or he will gain the money. Of course, his hopes are dashed, and he is forced to face the truth. His first wish stems entirely from his skepticism and his general wishes to keep his wife and son happy; they are cheerful to go along with the farce, and none of them believe that it can actually have a real effect.

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