Study Guide

The Monkey's Paw Summary

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The Monkey's Paw Summary

"The Monkey's Paw" is set in the White family home in England. It begins on a dark and stormy night, so we know we're in for a scary story. The Whites – Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son Herbert – are inside enjoying a cozy evening around the fire.

Soon Sergeant-Major Morris arrives. He's been in the army in India for the past 21 years. He tells the Whites stories of his adventures in that faraway land and shows them a monkey's paw that has the power to grant three wishes. Mr. White wants the paw, but Morris tells him it's cursed – people get hurt when their wishes are granted. He tries to burn the paw in the fire, but Mr. White snatches it up and buys it. After Morris leaves, Mr. White, following Herbert's suggestion, wishes for two hundred pounds, the amount of money he would need to pay off the bank and own the house outright.

The next morning, Herbert goes off to work as usual and Mrs. White watches for the two hundred pounds to show up. In the afternoon, a fancily dressed man pays the Whites a visit. He is from Maw and Meggins, the company Herbert works for. The man tells the Whites that Herbert has been killed in a machinery accident. (We aren't given details of Herbert's work, but the clues suggest that he works in some kind of factory.) The man says that the company takes no blame for Herbert's death but wants to give the Whites some money to help with their loss. You can probably guess how much money the man gives the Whites. That's right, two hundred pounds. Mrs. White screams and Mr. White faints.

Full of sadness over Herbert's death, Mr. and Mrs. White bury him in the cemetery two miles from their home. One night Mrs. White gets a bright idea: use those other two wishes to bring Herbert back! She shares her plan with Mr. White. He thinks it's a bad idea – he could barely look at Herbert's mangled body when he went to identify it. His wife really turns up the heat, though, and he caves in. Mr. White pulls out the cursed monkey's paw and wishes Herbert back to life.

Nothing happens, so the Whites go back to bed. Soon after, someone – or something – starts pounding on the door. (Have you seen Pet Sematary? This cannot be good.) Mrs. White is sure it's Herbert – it just took him a minute to get there from the cemetery. Mr. White is sure it's Herbert too, and he doesn't want his son to get in the house, so he makes his third wish on the monkey's paw. (We aren't told what it is.) The knocking stops. Mr. White hears Mrs. White open the door. He hears her scream out in agony because Herbert is not there. He goes outside with her and sees that the road is completely empty.

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