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

The Monkey's Paw

by W. W. Jacobs

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

Sergeant-Major Morris's perspective and experiences with the monkey's paw in "The Monkey's Paw."

Summary:

Sergeant-Major Morris views the monkey's paw with a sense of dread and caution due to his own negative experiences with it. He believes it brings misfortune, having witnessed its dangerous consequences firsthand. His attempt to destroy it and his warnings to the Whites underscore his conviction that the paw's magic is malevolent and should be avoided.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Morris feel about the monkey's paw in "The Monkey's Paw"?

When Sergeant-Major Morris visits the White family at the beginning of the short story, Mr. White urges him to talk about the monkey's paw from India. Sergeant-Major Morris immediately attempts to dismiss the topic but ends up elaborating on its history. When Herbert asks why Morris didn't have his three wishes granted, Morris turns white and quietly says, "I have" (Jacobs 3). Sergeant-Major Morris proceeds to speak in a grave tone when he mentions that the first person's last wish was for death. He then mentions that the paw has caused him enough mischief already and mysteriously says that he is not sure if he would want three more wishes from the monkey's paw. Morris then throws the paw into the fire and refuses to give it to his friend Mr. White. When Mr. White rescues the paw from the fire, Morris warns him of its consequences before he leaves. Overall, Sergeant-Major Morris seems to fear the monkey's paw and genuinely believes that it is magic. He views it as an ominous talisman and knows that it is dangerous, which is why he throws it into the fire. Sergeant-Major Morris regards the magic monkey's paw as a malevolent object and is cautious about letting his friend take the talisman.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Morris feel about the monkey's paw in "The Monkey's Paw"?

Sergeant-Major Morris is the man who brings the monkey's paw to the White's home.  On the surface, it seems that he is afraid of the paw and it seems that he wants to destroy it.  After all, he throws it in the fire, which would seem to indicate strongly that he wants to be rid of it.  We also know that he fears it because of what it has done to others (and, apparently, to him).

But he must be somewhat ambivalent about it.  If he hated it and feared it that much, why hadn't he gotten rid of it long before.  And why didn't he act much more strongly to keep the Whites from having and using it?

So it seems to me that he does fear the paw, but on some level he wants someone else to have it so they can have the bad "luck" he had.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What did Sergeant Major Morris say about the monkey's paw?

In summary, Morris said three things about the paw.  First, he got the paw from an old holy man, a fakir, in India. Therefore, the paw is imbued with magic and power.  In particular, this paw has the ability to give three wishes to three separate people who ask for it.  Two people, including himself, tried it, and it worked.

Second, the wishes that the paw grants will bring harm. This is why he tells Mr. White to be careful of what he wishes.  Also at one point, he throws the paw into the fire to destroy it. 

Finally, he says that the old fakir put a curse on the paw to show that people should not tamper with fate.  If they do tamper with fate, disastrous results would follow. 

Here is a quote that summarizes these points:

‘An old fakir put a spell on it. He was a very holy man and he wanted to show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that to interfere with fate only caused deep sadness. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.’

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What did Sergeant Major Morris say about the monkey's paw?

When Sergeant Morris visits with the White family, you will notice that he is very reluctant to share information about the monkey's paw. It is Mr. White who engages him in conversation about it. Morris tries to dismiss it as a bit of "magic," but this only serves to pique the White's curiosity.

Reluctantly, Sergeant Morris tells them that the paw had a spell put on it by an old "fakir" (religious man) who wanted to use it to teach people about the power of fate. Specifically, he wanted to show people that interfering with fate has serious consequences. In order to demonstrate this, explains Morris, the fakir created a spell which gave three wishes to three separate men.

Morris continues to say that he is the second man to own the monkey's paw. The first man had his three wishes, the third being death, and so the paw came into Morris's possession. Having already had his three wishes, Morris thought about selling the paw, but it has caused so much "mischief" that he thinks a buyer seems unlikely.

It is interesting to note that Morris does not reveal his wishes to the White family. Instead, he leaves the paw in their possession and tells them to wish for something "sensible"—if they must wish for anything at all.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did Sergeant-Major Morris acquire the monkey's paw?

Sergeant-Major Morris does not say exactly how he got the paw, although he says he got it from the first owner.

"The first man had his three wishes. Yes," was the reply; "I don't know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That's how I got the paw."

In answer to Herbert's question, Morris says that he too has had his three wishes, so there is only one more set of wishes left. It is possible that Morris bought the paw from the first owner, or had it given to him by that unfortunate man, or even that Morris killed him in some kind of military skirmish and took the paw. It would seem that Morris is not the kind of man who would buy such a thing just on the basis of a sales pitch from a stranger. He must have had some knowledge about its powers if he bought it. Maybe he knew the first owner. Evidently he knows more about what happened to that man than he is telling the Whites.

Morris indicates that he has kept the paw because he was thinking about selling it to someone but has recently changed his mind because "it has caused enough mischief already." This suggests that he would be open to an offer by Mr. White, who ends up becoming the third owner. Mr. White is therefore the only member of the family who can make wishes. This is a good thing, because Herbert would be likely to create disaster by wishing for a million pounds or something equally extravagant. And Mrs. White, who says she would like four pairs of hands, might wish for something truly outlandish. She does in fact persuade her husband to wish for Herbert to return from out of the grave.

W. W. Jacobs was clever in selecting a mummified monkey's paw as the talisman for his story because it suggests that there might still be some vitality in the thing. Also, it suggests a far-away place like India, because there are no native monkeys in England. And furthermore, it is a loathsome object which suggests sinister potential. Mr. White doesn't want to touch it at first, but Herbert picks it up. The father is older and wiser. The son is young and impulsive. White has premonitions of danger. Herbert is a character who could get himself caught in the machinery at the textile plant where he works--especially since he will stay up later than usual, drinking more than usual with Sergeant-Major Morris, who is perceptibly a heavy whiskey-drinker.

So the reader will never know exactly how Sergeant-Major Morris acquired the monkey's paw. But this is not terribly important, because the introductory part is mainly concerned with explaining how Mr. White acquires it. What happens after Morris relinquishes control of the diabolical thing and leaves the Whites to their fate is the dramatic essence of the tale. A lot in the story depends on the unknown. For instance, the reader will never know whether what happened to the family was fate or coincidence. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did the Sergeant Major acquire the monkeys paw?

The Sergeant Major got the monkey's paw in India from a man who used his three wishes, with his last wish being for death.  

"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir," said the sergeant-major, "a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it." (Jacobs)

"The first man had his three wishes, yes," was the reply. "I don't know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That's how I got the paw." (Jacobs)

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why does Sergeant-Major Morris advise sensible wishing in "The Monkey's Paw"?

Sergeant-Major Morris has learned from bitter personal experience just how dangerous the monkey's paw can be. He's acutely aware of the paw's history, of how an old swami put a curse on it to prevent foolish people from messing around with the forces of fate. Unfortunately, the Whites are just the kind of fools the Indian holy man had in mind when he placed the curse on the monkey's paw. It's patently obvious to Morris that the Whites don't take it seriously at all; to them, the paw's just a load of harmless mumbo-jumbo. That explains why he throws it onto the fire; he knows already that the Whites most definitely won't use their wishes responsibly. Sadly, he's eventually proved right.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why does Sergeant-Major Morris advise sensible wishing in "The Monkey's Paw"?

The sergeant does this because when he first tells the Whites that the monkey's paw has the power to grant a person three wishes, they simply do not take him seriously. Mrs White remarks that the story sounds like something out of the Arabian Nights, which are well known as tales of pure magic and fantasy.

Mrs White goes on in the same frivolous manner:

Don't you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?

Then the Whites all laugh as the sergeant hastily intervenes to prevent Mr White from making such a ridiculous wish.

The sergeant actually believes in the paw's abilities because, as it seems, he has experienced them for himself with grim results, while the Whites are just treating it all as a huge joke at this stage. However, they are very soon to have a wish granted in the most appalling manner, and then the mood changes and remains dark for the rest of the story. In fact, the tale becomes one of gothic horror, although the horror remains powerfully understated.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Morris's behavior reveal about the monkey's paw?

Sergeant-Major Morris's behavior does not directly reveal facts about the monkey's paw, but the reader certainly forms ideas about the nature of the object based on his behavior. First, there is the fact that he is unwilling to talk about the monkey's paw when Mr. White brings up the subject, suggesting that it is a thing as well as a topic to be avoided if possible. He then mentions magic, which contrasts with his next remark about how the paw is an ordinary object in terms of its appearance. These two comments taken together suggest that the paw is extraordinary in some way that cannot be seen and that it may have magic powers.

Morris then tells the story of the enchantment put upon the paw by the old fakir. The Whites are inclined to laugh this off, but Morris's manner shows that he believes in the power of the monkey's paw, and this leads them to hide their skepticism. His gravity is reinforced by his dismissal of the idea of selling the paw and his final decisive gesture of throwing it on the fire. This action contradicts his words when he claims not to know whether he would want his own three wishes over again. His general taciturnity and moroseness strongly suggest that he regards the paw as both a powerful and an evil thing which has had a profound effect on his life. He is not prepared to share this effect with anyone and has grave doubts about sharing the power of the paw itself.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on