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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Sergeant-Major Morris's motives for his actions regarding the monkey's paw in "The Monkey's Paw."

Summary:

Sergeant-Major Morris's motives for his actions regarding the monkey's paw are rooted in his awareness of its dangers. He attempts to burn it to prevent harm, showing his desire to protect others from its curse. Despite his warnings, he reluctantly gives it to the Whites, possibly hoping they will heed his caution and avoid making wishes.

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Why does Sergeant-Major Morris throw the monkey's paw into the fire?

When Sergeant-Major Morris throws the monkey's paw into the fire in W. W. Jacobs's short story "The Monkey's Paw," he seems to do so casually, resignedly, even somewhat disdainfully:

He took the paw, and dangling it between his forefinger and thumb, suddenly threw it upon the fire.

When Mr. White first inquires about the monkey's paw a bit earlier, the sergeant-major responds dismissively:

"What was that you started telling me the other day about a monkey's paw or something, Morris?"

"Nothing," said the soldier, hastily. "Leastways nothing worth hearing .... it's just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps," said the sergeant-major, offhandedly.

Sergeant-Major Morris explains that the monkey's paw had a spell put on it by an old holy man who claimed that he wanted people to realize that fate rules their lives "and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow." The sergeant-major throws the monkey's paw into the fire to rid himself of the stigma of it, to release himself from his own memories of it, to relieve himself of the responsibility for it, and to spare the White family from the dreadful consequences of its use.

But Mr. White snatches the paw out of the fire. "Better let it burn," the sergeant-major says solemnly to Mr. White. "If you keep it," he says, "don't blame me for what happens."

Sergeant-Major Morris doesn't reveal to the Whites what his own three wishes were, but he says that although he doesn't know what the first two wishes of the previous owner of the monkey's paw were, "the third was for death."

A little later, Mr. White asks Sergeant-Major Morris how to use the paw. The sergeant-major responds that he should simply raise his right hand and make his wish aloud, but the sergeant-major again reinforces his earlier comment about people coming to sorrow—"but I warn you of the consequences."

In time, Sergeant-Major Morris leaves the company of the Whites to catch the last train back to his home, but not without again urging Mr. White to throw away the monkey's paw.

Mr. and Mrs. White and their son, Herbert, make fun of the sergeant-major's dire warnings, but all of them come to realize and experience exactly what Sergeant-Major Morris meant by the unintended "consequences" of the paw's use.

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Why does Sergeant Major Morris throw the monkey's paw onto the fire and why do the Whites react so strongly?

Often typical of horror stories, W.W. Jacobs short story "The Monkey's Paw" is about a group of seemingly good people who are drawn into evil by temptation. In this case, the Whites are a happy family whose lives are destroyed by their greed. When Sergeant Major Morris visits the family on a dark and stormy night he relates stories of his adventures in India and Mr. White cannot resist asking about a "monkey's paw" which Morris had mentioned in an earlier conversation. The paw is a magic talisman which apparently is able to grant three wishes to its current owner. When asked if he had made three wishes, Morris answers positively but never details what he wished for. It is only noted that his "blotchy face whitened" as he thought about it. He does, however, tell the Whites about the previous owner whose last wish was for death, adding that he had thought of selling the paw but that most people thought his story a "fairy tale." Then he throws the paw onto the fire, presumably a signal that the thing is evil and should be destroyed. It's also possible that this is simply a bit of dramatics from Morris in hopes that he may intrigue the Whites into buying it. Mr. White immediately retrieves it from the fire and, despite more warnings from Morris, decides to keep it. He ends up giving Morris a "trifle," probably a small amount of money for the paw. The Whites have obviously been lured into temptation by hearing Morris's stories and Mr. White eventually wishes for two hundred pounds which, unfortunately, proves a tragic mistake.

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Why does Mr. Morris throw the monkey’s paw into the fire?

After Mr. White asks Sergeant-Major Morris about the monkey's paw he attained in India, Morris is reluctant to speak about it, then proceeds to tell the White family that its first owner's last wish was for death. After mentioning that he is not sure whether he would want three more wishes, he suddenly throws the magic monkey's paw into the fire. Sergeant-Major Morris understands the malevolent powers of the monkey's paw and is aware that it can wreak havoc on the White family, which he is why he attempts to destroy it by throwing it into the fire. Morris is a friend of the White family and does not wish to see them hurt by the monkey's paw. By throwing the magic monkey's paw into the fire, Morris is being proactive and protecting the White family from the evil talisman. Tragically, Mr. White retrieves the monkey's paw from the fire before it can be destroyed and proceeds to make his first wish after Morris leaves.

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Why does Mr. Morris throw the monkey’s paw into the fire?

Sergeant-Major Morris knows what the monkey's paw can do; he knows what strange powers it holds. He has direct personal experience of this, and doesn't want anyone else to have to go through what he did. He explicitly tells the Whites that an old fakir, or Indian holy-man, put a magic spell on the paw to show that fate ruled people's lives and that interfering with it would only lead to sorrow.

Despite Morris's warning, the Whites don't seem convinced; they treat the monkey's paw like it's nothing but a big joke, a harmless piece of mumbo-jumbo. As the paw has already caused so much mischief, and as the Whites clearly don't take its magic powers seriously, Morris throws it onto the fire. Foolishly, Mr. White immediately swoops down and snatches the monkey's paw from the flames. Morris advises him to throw it back on the fire, but White chooses to keep it instead, with tragic consequences.

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Why does Major Morris throw the monkey's paw onto the fire, and why do the Whites react so strongly?

Sergeant-Major Morris throws the monkey's paw onto the fire because he wants to destroy it; he knows just how dangerous it is. He knows that his strange object has dark, magical powers with which it would be foolish to mess around. Having told the Whites all about the paw and what it can do, he's sure that he hasn't convinced them of its dangers. In fact, if anything, the Whites are intrigued by this unusual object. As Morris is worried that the Whites will use the paw to mess around with the forces of darkness, he throws it onto the fire in an ultimately futile attempt to stop them from doing so.

But even this drastic step doesn't work, as Mr. White quickly retrieves the paw from the fire before it can be destroyed. He and the other members of his family are utterly fascinated by the paw and are not about to let it go until they've had some fun with it. As with most people, they're intrigued at the idea of making three wishes. And as they believe that the legend of the monkey's paw is nothing more than a harmless piece of mumbo-jumbo, they don't see any problem in making three wishes on it.

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Why does Sergeant-Major Morris throw the monkey's paw in the fire?

After the White family hears Sergeant-Major Morris's history of the monkey's paw, young Herbert White asks:

"Well, why don't you have three, sir?"

The reader is left to guess from the sergeant-major's reaction to the question what his three wishes might have been and how they might have turned out for him.

The soldier regarded him in the way that middle age is wont to regard presumptuous young. "I have," he said quietly, and his blotchy face whitened.

He probably has a blotchy face from too much exposure to the sun in places like India and from too much drinking. When his face whitens from strong emotions, the effect would be striking. Obviously the results of his three wishes have left the man with a fear and loathing for the mummified paw. That is why, after a little more conversation he threw it in the fire:

He took the paw, and dangling it between his front finger and thumb, suddenly threw it upon the fire.

His host snatches it out of the fireplace and begs to keep it:

"If you don't want it, Morris, give it to me."

Morris warns him against using it, telling him to be sensible:

"Pitch it on the fire again, like a sensible man."

The sergeant-major's attitude toward the monkey's paw foreshadows troubles for Mr. White and possibly for his whole family. The reader is curious to see what White will wish for, whether his wish will be granted, and whether the fulfillment will lead to unforeseen harmful consequences.

By keeping the paw even after having made his three wishes, the sergeant-major shows he must have considered the possibility of passing it on to one last person, since the holy man had made the spell good for the use of three separate men:

". . . put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it."

Morris may have been hoping that at least one man could get some good out of the thing without having to suffer uncanny side-effects. It seems he may not be entirely convinced that the paw possesses supernatural powers. The bad luck that has been experienced by himself and the first owner of the paw may, after all, have been mere coincidence. But he decides against passing it on and intends to destroy it in the most effective way possible, by letting it burn to ashes, though Mr. White interferes.

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What is the Sergeant Major's motive for giving the monkey's paw in "The Monkey's Paw"?

From the details found in the “Monkey’s Paw” the Sergeant Major’s motive is to destroy the paw.  However, this could easily be debated.  His character serves to intrigue and entice the White’s with his stories of mystery and suspense.  It is obvious from the very first moment he introduced the paw – and when he feigned throwing it into the fire.  Structurally he is required for the initial complication of the plot.

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