The Monkey's Paw Study Guide

The Monkey's Paw

The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs

The Monkey's Paw is the story of the White family. One day the family receives a visit from an old friend, Sergeant-Major Morris, who has traveled abroad in his military service and has come into possession of a preserved monkey's paw said to grant three wishes to its holder. Morris tries to dispose of the paw, but Mr. White claims it for himself only to discover that its wishes are poisoned with ironic twists of fate.

The short story involves Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son, Herbert. Sergeant-Major Morris, a friend who served with the British Army in India, introduces them to a mummified monkey's paw. An old fakir placed a spell on the paw, that it would grant three wishes to three separate men. The wishes are granted but always with hellish consequences, as punishment for tampering with fate. Morris tells the Whites of his comrade, who used his third wish to wish for death. Morris, also having had a horrific experience upon using the paw, throws the monkey's paw into the fire but Mr. White retrieves it. Before leaving, Morris warns Mr. White that if he does use the paw, then be it on his own head.

At Herbert's suggestion, Mr. White wishes for£200 to be used as the final payment on his house, even though he believes he has everything he wants. The next day his son Herbert leaves for work at a local factory. Later that day, word comes to the White home that Herbert has been killed in a terrible machinery accident. Although the employer denies responsibility for the incident, the firm makes a goodwill payment to family of the deceased. The payment is £200.

Ten days after their son's death and a week after the funeral, Mrs. White, almost mad with grief, asks her husband to use the paw to wish Herbert back to life. Reluctantly, he does so. Shortly afterwards there is a knock at the door. As Mrs. White fumbles at the locks in an attempt to open the door Mr. White, who had to identify his son's mutilated body, and who knows the corpse has been buried for more than a week, realises that the thing outside is not the son he knew and loved, and makes his third wish.

The knocking suddenly stops. Mrs. White opens the door to find no one is there.

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