Study Guide

The Monkey's Paw Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

  • "The Monkey's Paw" starts off the way many good scary stories start – with a dark and stormy night.
  • We're in England, inside Laburnam Villa, where things are not dark and stormy. Actually, they are quite cheery – there's even a fire burning in the fireplace.
  • Now we meet the White family. The father and mother both have white hair. Their grown son, Herbert White, is probably in his mid-20s.
  • Mr. White and Herbert are playing chess, while Mrs. White knits near that fire we were talking about. What could be more homey and comfy than this?
  • Mr. White makes a wrong move and Herbert wins the game, putting Mr. White in a bad mood, but just for a second.
  • Soon Sergeant-Major Morris arrives. The Whites welcome him and offer him some whiskey. The alcohol makes Morris talkative, and he tells the White stories of his time in India.
  • Apparently he has been away in India for the past 21 years, serving in the British Army.
  • Mr. White brings up something from an earlier conversation with Morris – a monkey's paw.
  • Morris says the paw is "magic" (1.21). As he takes it out of his pocket, he says, "To look at, it's just an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy" (1.23).
  • Mrs. White is grossed out by the paw, but Herbert holds it and checks it out, then Mr. White takes it.
  • Morris tells them the legend of the paw: "It had a spell put on it by an old fakir, a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it" (1.26).
  • Morris says he got the paw from the first man who wished on it. Guess what that man's third wish was. It was "for death" (1.33). (Hmm. Bad sign.)
  • Morris says he made three wishes on the paw too, and his wishes came true, but he isn't sure he would wish again if he had the chance.
  • Suddenly, Morris chucks the paw into the fire.
  • Mr. White grabs it out before it burns. He asks Morris to let him have the paw.
  • Morris warns him against it, but then he gives him instruction on using the paw: 1. Hold paw in hand. 2. Make wish. (Definitely not rocket science.)
  • After Morris leaves, Mr. White holds the paw and says, "I don't know what to wish for, and that's a fact […] It seems to me I've got all I want" (1.54). Oh really? Then why did you want the cursed paw in the first place?
  • Herbert suggests wishing for two hundred pounds (pounds are English currency, just like the dollars are American currency). Two hundred pounds is the amount Mr. White needs to finish paying back the bank for his house.
  • Mr. White holds the paw and makes the wish. The paw moves in his hand – eek! He screams.
  • Herbert makes some jokes about the paw. He doesn't believe it's magic.
  • After his parents go to bed, Herbert sees (or thinks he sees) the "horrible" face of a monkey in the fire. He throws water on the face, then gives the paw a squeeze and goes to bed.

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