"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." (1.33)
Wow, pretty strong warning there, but it's softened by Morris' claim that he has wished on the paw – and he's obviously still alive. (But we don't know whether anybody close to him died after he used the paw.) This statement foreshadows the fact that a death will occur in the story.
"Is he hurt?" demanded the mother.
The visitor bowed in assent. "Badly hurt," he said quietly, "but he is not in any pain." (2.17)
Herbert isn't in any pain because he's dead. That's a pretty creepy thing to say, don't you think? If you had to tell somebody her loved one was dead, would you use a direct or indirect approach?
"He was the only one left to us," he said, turning gently to the visitor. "It is hard." (2.23)
Jacobs is a master of saying a lot in just a few words. It seems very significant that there were other White children who died. It lets us know that the Whites are no strangers to grief and death.
In the huge new cemetery, some two miles distant, the old people buried their dead, and came back to a house steeped in shadow and silence. (3.1)
Herbert's death transforms the White's home from a happy place to one of sadness, grief, and darkness. Will the Whites ever be able to make their home happy again?
"Go and get it and wish," cried his wife, quivering with excitement.
The old man turned and regarded her, and his voice shook. "He has been dead ten days, and besides he – I would not tell you else, but – I could only recognize him by his clothing. If he was too terrible for you to see then, how now?" (3.24)
Mr. White understands the way this whole wishing thing works, but he wishes Herbert back to life anyway – without specifying that the grave rot and physical disfigurement <em>not </em>be included in the package. This passage gets at our fears of death and dead people. Notice how Mrs. White's grief causes her to forget these fears.
He raised his hand. "I wish my son alive again." (3.31)
We never come face to face with the undead Herbert, and are therefore never sure if he does come back to life again.