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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What spell did a Fakir put on the monkey's paw and why?

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According to the story, the answer to your questions are in the following quote:

"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."

Although this is what the author says, I think that there is more to it than this, or that we can state both parts of the answer a bit better.

To me, the most important aspect of the spell is that the wishes can be granted in any way -- even ones that cause something very bad to happen.  You can see an example of this when Mr. White gets his 200 pounds but only by having his son die.

The fakir presumably puts this spell on the paw as a way of teaching people that they should not be greedy -- they should not want things that they do not have.  The spell shows us that getting the things we think we want will not alway really help us.  Perhaps you can liken this to cases in the US where lottery winners' lives are destroyed because they cannot adjust to having all that money all of a sudden.

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Why did the fakir cast a spell on the monkey's paw?

Since Sergeant-Major Morris did not get the monkey's paw directly from the Indian fakir (or holy man), he does not have to be too specific about why the fakir wanted to do what he did. This is really just a story device used to explain why the paw supposedly has such magical powers. The only explanation that Morris gives is contained in one brief paragraph.

"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."

So all Morris really knows about the holy man's motivation is that "he wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow." This seems like a strange thing to want to show and a strange way of going about showing it. Only a very few people would ever receive the paw or the lesson. It seems that the holy man could have done better by preaching a sermon to a large assembly. 

We might question the validity of the old fakir's belief. It seems to mean that everything that will ever happen to each one of us is already foreordained. In that case, why should we make any effort to improve ourselves or to do anything. Maybe we should all sit around on the ground like that old fakir and do nothing but beg for a bowl of rice for our one meal per day. 

The fakir is not essential to the story. W. W. Jacobs passes over it quickly. It was something that happened long ago and far away. Jacobs does not even insist that the monkey's paw has any magical qualities at all. Later in the story Mr. White reminds his wife of something Sergeant-Major Morris told them the night before.

"Morris said the things happened so naturally," said' his father, "that you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence."

The things that happen in this story might be attributed to coincidence. Their son Herbert might have gotten killed at work because he had stayed up too late and had drunk too much whiskey with their interesting visitor. The fact that the company paid the father and mother two hundred pounds, the amount White had wished for, could be a pure coincidence. They never know for sure that it was their son Herbert knocking at the door in response to the second wish. And they never know whether the third wish made Herbert go away or whether some stranger just got tired of knocking and left.

Was W. W. Jacobs' story intended to prove that people should not wish for things they haven't got? Or was it intended to be just a scary ghost story? The effect the story leaves on the reader is one of horror, what the French call a frisson. That may have been all Jacobs intended. If so, he was extremely successful in achieving his intended effect. "The Monkey's Paw" is a horror classic.

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In "The Monkey's Paw," why did the fakir put a spell on the monkey's paw?

In this short story, we are told explicitly why the fakir put the spell on the monkey’s paw.  Even if we were not told explicitly, we would be able to infer the reason from the moral of the story.

When the story begins, the White family is generally content.  They seem to get along well with one another.  They are not in the most luxurious circumstances, but things seem to be pretty good.  But then Sergeant-Major Morris shows up with the monkey’s paw.  The family gets greedy and wants to change their lives.  This, of course, leads to tragedy.  From this, we could infer that the fakir wanted to teach people to be content with what they have.

Sergeant-Major Morris tells us straight out what the fakir was trying to do.  The fakir’s purpose was similar to the idea in the previous paragraph.  Morris says that

He (the fakir) wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow.

The fakir wanted to show people that they should not try to change their fate.  They should be content with the life that they have been given and should not try too hard to change their lives. 

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