The Monkey's Paw
by W.W. Jacobs
Mr. White is the elderly man who buys the monkey's paw and uses it to wish for two hundred pounds (British money) in order to pay off the loan on his house. At the beginning of the story, he's skeptical about the paw. Is it magical, or is it just an icky piece of junk? By the end of the story, though, he's totally convinced of its powers.
"The Monkey's Paw" is a tragedy, the story of Mr. White's fall from a basically happy life to one full of fear, doubt, guilt, and loneliness when his son dies and his wife breaks down. We might see "The Monkey's Paw" as the story of a foolish man who makes foolish wishes and pays the price. We might also see it as the story of a man who learns to be strong when life gets tough.
Why Wish on a Cursed Monkeys Paw?
Mr. White seems like a kindhearted man, eager to please his wife and son. Still, he is a little reckless (as his chess game suggests) and a bit dissatisfied with his life. He complains about living in the middle of nowhere and wishes he could visit India, like Sergeant-Major Morris. Yet, before he makes his first wish, he makes this claim:
"I don't know what to wish for, and that's a fact," he said, slowly. "It seems to me I've got all I want." (1.54)
Mr. White is very human. Like most people he has conflicting desires and emotions. We can want to be home and somewhere else at the same time. We see him as a bit of a dreamer, a man who wants to experience something exciting in his old age. This dream combines with his desire to make life easier for his family by paying off the house and drives him to wish on the paw.
Mrs. White and Herbert both think Mr. White is "credulous," that is, that he's gullible and will believe just about anything. This suggests (but doesn't prove) that Mr. White has fallen for schemes in the past. Maybe he has lost money investing in get-rich-quick schemes, or has gotten sucked in by the crazy claims on infomercials. Who knows? Can you relate to this aspect of his character? Do you know somebody like Mr. White?
Herbert jokes that his father is "hen-pecked" a mean term for men who let their wives boss them around. Today, we might say that his wife has him totally whipped. And yep, Mr. White does seem to bend easily to the wishes of his wife (and son), but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. In some ways, Mr. White defies stereotypical roles for his gender. He doesn't mind letting Mrs. White run the show, and he's happy to be able to rely on her.
At the same time, when we see her force him to wish Herbert back to life, we wonder if maybe this isn't the first time she's gone too far. If she knows he'll do anything she wants, and she uses this power to make him do things he's uncomfortable with, then we've hit on an unhealthy aspect of their relationship.
Mr. White makes his final wish all on his own, in direct defiance of his wife's desire to bring back their undead son, no matter what horrifying condition he might be in. This might represent a major turning point for Mr. White. Being strong enough to do what he thinks is best for both of them while Mrs. White is weak will help them get through the tough lonely days ahead.Timeline