Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Publication Year
Monkey's Paw" is a short story in the genre of Gothic
horror. Harper's Monthly Magazine published it in September
action takes place in Great Britain, circa 1900, in a house along a lonely
road a considerable distance from the nearest population center. The main
character, Mr. White, describes the locale in the sixth paragraph of the
story: "Of all the beastly, slushy, out of the way places to live in, this
is the worst. Pathway's a bog, and the road's a torrent. I don't know what
people are thinking about. I suppose because only two houses in the road
are let, they think it doesn't matter."
Mr. White: Elderly
man apparently retired.
Mrs. White: Wife
of Mr. White.
Herbert White: Son
of Mr. White.
Dinner guest of the Whites. He brings with him a curious talisman, a mummified
(preserved) monkey's paw.
Representative of Maw
and Meggins: Man who delivers horrifying news.
Postman: Mail carrier
who makes a delivery that attracts the attention of Mrs. White.
narrator presents the story in omniscient third-person point of view. From
this perspective, the narrator can reveal the thoughts of the characters,
as in the following passages:
Morris's] manner was so impressive that his hearers were conscious that
their light laughter had jarred somewhat.
In mental connection with
the two hundred pounds, she [Mrs. White] noticed that the stranger was
well dressed, and wore a silk hat of glossy newness.
the parlor of Laburnum villa on a stormy evening, the elderly Mr. White
attempts to distract his son Herbert's attention from the chessboard, saying,
Hark at the wind. But Herbert notices his father's vulnerable king
should hardly think that he's come to-night, says Mr. White.
son checkmates his father, who says with violence in his voice, Of all
the beastly, slushy, out of the way places to live in, this is the worst.
Pathway's a bog, and the road's a torrent.
mind, dear, says his wife, who is knitting by the fire; perhaps you'll
win the next one.
the cold night outside, they hear the gate bang and footsteps approaching.
The elder White goes to the door and escorts a burly, red-faced man into
the room and introduces him as Sergeant-Major Morris. Morris sits by the
fire while White gets out the whiskey.
on his third drink, Morris perks up and speaks of his twenty-one years
of traveling in distant lands, notably India. He tells of wild scenes
and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples. Mr. White
says he would like to see Indiathose old temples and fakirs
was that that you started telling me the other day about a monkey's paw
or something, Morris?"
it's just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps."
White pours the sergeant-major another drink as the latter removes a dried,
mummified paw from his pocket. Mrs. White draws back but her son takes
it and examines it, then gives it to his father. He looks it over and sets
it on a table, asking Morris what is unusual about it. The sergeant-major
says a fakir had placed a spell on
it to demonstrate that fate controls the lives of people and that anyone
who tries to interfere with fate does so at his peril.
put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes
first man made his three wishes, Morris says. The last was a wish for death.
how I got it, the sergeant-major points out, speaking in a grave tone.
Mr. White inquires why Morris keeps it, he replies, Fancy, I suppose.
He would like to sell it because, he says, it has caused him trouble. But
many people are reluctant to buy it because they doubt its power. Some
want to try a wish first before paying him.
Morris takes the paw and throws it into the fire. White snatches it back
out. Morris tells him he should toss it back in, but White puts it into
his pocket and asks how to make a wish.
it up in your right hand, and wish aloud," says the sergeant-major, "But
I warn you of the consequences."
Mrs. White gets up and begins setting the supper table, Mr. White takes
out the monkey's paw. Morris, alarmed, quickly grasps his arm. His hosts
all begin laughing.
you must wish, wish for something sensible," Morris says.
puts it back in his pocket, sets the table chairs in place, and everyone
eats. Then the Whites listen to more of Morris's stories of India. After
he leaves, everyone jokes about the monkey's paw.
we're going to be rich, and famous, and happy, Herbert says. Wish to
be an emperor, father, to begin with; then you can't be henpecked."
White chases her son playfully around the table while Mr. White takes out
the talisman. He says he does not know what to
wish for, because he has everything that he wants. Herbert suggests £200
to pay off the house, and so the old man says, I wish for two hundred
Immediately after stating
the wish, Mr. White cries out and drops the talisman. His son and wife
run to him.
I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake," the old man says.
I don't seen the money, says his son.
wife says her husband must have imagined that the talisman moved.
they sit down at the fireplace, the two men smoke their pipes. When the
wind roars outside, a door bangs upstairs. Silence descends on the room.
Then Mr. and Mrs. White decide to retire. When Herbert is alone in the
parlor, he sees faces in the fire, the last resembling that of a monkey.
Unnerved, he reaches to the table for a glass of water to throw on the
fire but finds the talisman instead. After holding it momentarily, he lets
go of it, wipes his hand on his coat, and goes to bed.
is a bright winter sun the next morning. At the breakfast table, Herbert
dismisses his uneasiness of the previous evening as baseless. Mrs. White
says Morris's story about the monkey's paw was nonsense. Mr. White says
Morris told him that the talisman's wishes are granted "so naturally that
you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence."
then goes out. When the postman delivers the mail, Mrs. White goes to with
expectation in spite of what she said about placing no faith in the monkey's
paw. But there is only a tailor's bill.
at the dinner table, Mr. White insists that the monkey's paw moved when
he held it. Mrs. White says he imagined that it did.
say it did, says her husband.
a well-dressed stranger arrives at the door, Mrs. White admits him and
escorts him inside. He identifies himself as a representative of Maw and
Meggins, Herbert's place of employment. Then, in a subdued voice, he announces
terrible news: Herbert was caught in the machinery. On behalf of the
firm, he expresses sincere sympathy with you in your great loss.
news devastates the old couple. Mr. White takes his wife's hand and says,
He was the only one left to us. It is hard.
man then says his employers disclaim all responsibility and admit no
liability. However, he says, they wish to provide compensation£200.
Mrs. White shrieks. Mr. White falls to the floor.
days immediately after the burial are long and wearisome. One night, Mr.
White awakens to find his wife at the window, crying. He calls her back
to bed in a tender tone, then falls back to sleep. Moments later, he awakens
again when his wife shouts, THE PAW! THE MONKEY'S PAW! She runs toward
him saying she wants it. He tells her it is in the parlor on the mantle.
Then she reminds him that there are still two wishes left.
down and get it quickly, she says, and wish our boy alive again.
tells her she is mad. But she insists that he use it again to restore their
him back, she says.
goes downstairs in the dark and finds the talisman. He is distraught. A
cold sweat breaks out on his forehead. What if the as yet unspoken wish
brings the young man back in his mutilated state? When he returns to the
bedroom with the talisman, she tells him to wish.
is foolish and wicked, he says.
makes the wish, then lets the monkey's paw drop to the floor. The old woman
opens a window blind and peers out. He sits in a chair. They wait. Finally,
their candle goes out, and Mr. White returns to bed. A moment later, she
joins him. In the silencesave for the ticking of the clockthey hear a
stair creak. After mustering courage, Mr. White takes a box of matches,
strikes one, and goes downstairs to get a candle. The match goes out on
the stairs and he strikes another. There is a timid knock on the front
door. Frightened, Mr. White drops the matches and runs back upstairs and
into the bedroom. When his wife asks what happened, he says he saw a rat
run past him on the stairs. The knock grows louder.
Herbert! Mrs. White says.
runs toward the stairs but her husband grabs her arm and tells her not
to answer the door. There is another knock, then another. Mrs. White breaks
free and goes downstairs.
God's sake, don't let it in, he shouts.
the door, she cannot reach high enough to push back the bolt lock. She
calls for her husband. But he is crawling around in search of the monkey's
paw. If he can find it, he thinks, he can prevent the thing from getting
in. The knocker is now pounding at the door. Mrs. White draws a chair up
to it and throws back the bolt just as her husband finds the monkey's paw
and makes a wishthe third and last.
White opens the door and wind rushes in. She cries out in misery, and her
husband rushes to her side. There is no one there. He goes out past the
gate to get a better look.
street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road, the
climax occurs when the representative of Maw and Meggins tells Mr. and
Mrs. White that their son died in an accident at work. He also informs
them that they will receive £200 as compensation for their son's
deaththe exact amount that Mr. White had wished for with the monkey's
Man vs Fate
Morris tells the Whites that the old fakir who cast a spell on the mummy's
paw "wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who
interfered with it did so to their sorrow." But Mr. White wishes to challenge
fateperhaps to show that there is no such thing as fate in the first place
or, if there is, that he can get his wish granted without incurring the
wrath of fate. So he wishes for 200 pounds. Later, he is told he will get
the moneyas compensation for the tragic death of his son. In his 1849
poem "Resignation," Matthew Arnold wrote, "They . . . who await / No gifts
from chance, have conquer'd fate."
craftily spins a tale in which horror overwhelms two of the charactersand
perhaps not a few readers. He begins with a scene of a peaceful contentment:
The elderly Mr. White and his son Herbert enjoy a game of chess in the
parlor while Mrs. White sits knitting nearby. The glow of a fireplace warms
the room. Outside, though, it is dark and cold and stormy, hinting of ominous
events to come. A guest arrives, tells stories, dines with the Whites,
and leaves behind a curious talisman, a monkey's paw, that supposedly grants
three wishes to its possessor. Later, Mr. White holds up the talisman and
makes his first wish. The next day the wish is grantedat the cost of Herbert's
life. He is mangled in a machine while at work. Then Mrs. White wonders
whether a second wish can bring him back to life, and the story moves swiftly
to its terrifying conclusion.
The Peril of Foolhardy
White tends to act without due consideration of the consequences. This
tendency first manifests itself in a chess game in which he subjects his
king to sharp and unnecessary perils. His inclination to act hastily
manifests itself again when he risks suffering a burn to retrieve the monkey's
paw from the glowing parlor fire. When Morris urges him to throw it back,
he keeps it. Clearly he wants to test the power of the talisman. And he
does so even though Sergeant Morris had warned him of the possibility of
taking possession of the monkey's paw, Mr. White tells his wife and son,
"I don't know what to wish for, and that's a fact. It seems to me I've
got all I want." Then he follows his son's advice to wish for £200.
If there is a message here, it is this: Be satisfied if you are already
leading a comfortable life. Wanting more leads to greed, and greed can
lead to trouble.
Man vs Fate
White's reckless move in the chess game foreshadows his reckless desire
to try out the monkey's paw. For more about White's tendency to leap before
he looks, see Themes, The Peril of Foolhardy Risks.
House as a Symbol
Whites gather in the parlor of their comfortable home far from the hubbub
of city life and shut in from the inclement weather. They are safe and
secure, and they are warm and happy near the glow of the fireplace.
One might say they have their own little Garden of Eden.
Sergeant-Major Morris visits the family, he brings with him a strange talisman,
a monkey's paw, that grants wishes. Even though Mr. White says he has all
that he wants, he makes a wish. Then, he says, the talisman twists in his
hand like a snake. Thus, a "serpent" has invaded the home just as a serpent
invaded the Garden of Eden, and it has tempted the curious Mr. White figuratively
to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. But he brings ruin on his
family just as Adam and Eve brought ruin on themselves.
is interesting to note that the name of the Whites' house is Laburnum villa.
Laburnum is a a genus of shrubs and trees with poisonous bark, leaves,
Arabian NIghts: Collection
of old tales from India, Persia, and Arabia. One of the stories centers
on Aladdin and a magic lamp. Rubbing the lamp causes to appear a genie
who grants wishes. Mrs. White is probably alluding to the Aladdin story
when she mentions the Arabian Nights (also known as The One Thousand
and One Nights).
fakir (pronounced fuh
KEER): Hindu or Muslim holy man who performs feats of magic and physical
Laburnum: See The
House as a Symbol.
believed to have magical powers; charm.
Questions and Writing Topics
Sergeant-Major Morris urges
Mr. White not to use the monkey's paw, saying it brings misfortune. If
he believes the talisman has sinister powers, why did he bring it to the
dinner in the first place?
Write an informative essay about
the fakirs of India. In your essay, point out the difference between Hindu
and Muslim fakirs.
Are you superstitious? For example,
do you believe that Friday the Thirteenth can bring bad luck? Do you keep
lucky charms? Do you avoid walking under a ladder raised against a building?
Explain your answer(s).
Explain the underlined words
in this quotation from the story: "Unconscious of his wife's shriek, the
old man smiled faintly, put out his hands like a sightless man, and
dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor."