Character Analysis in The Monkey's Paw
Sergeant-Major Morris: Morris provides a catalyst for story’s conflict. Before his arrival, the White family is perfectly content. With his travels he not only brings back tales of strange and “exotic” lands far beyond Europe but also brings the artifact of the monkey’s paw. Through his discussions of the paw, he makes its power sound alluring, limitless, and dangerous, causing Mr. White to save the paw from destruction and setting the story’s events in motion.
Mr. & Mrs. White: Before the story’s events, Mr. and Mrs. White seem to have a perfectly happy life together. As the story progresses, however, their flaws become more apparent: Mr. White is reckless while Mrs. White is unable to control her grief in the face of difficult events. The couple end up a victim of fate and their own desires to test the paw’s powers.
Herbert White: The only child of the Whites, Herbert is irreverent to the paw’s power and goads his parents into making a wish. His disbelief in the paw allows modern readers to sympathize with him.
Character Analysis Examples in The Monkey's Paw:
"If you keep it, don't blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire again like a sensible man."..." See in text (I.)
This Morris’s final warning to the Whites. Recall the chess game earlier: Mr. White carelessly puts his chess pieces in danger, not realizing that he has made a mistake until too late. A “sensible” man, rather than a reckless one, would get rid of the paw, but Mr. White is too reckless to consider that option at this time. Morris’s statement here serves to remove him from all blame of whatever happens, showing that he believes in the paw’s power and genuinely fears it.
"At the third glass his eyes got brighter, and he began to talk,..." See in text (I.)
Notice how it takes three glasses of whiskey for Morris to tell the Whites all about his travels. This suggests that he is a quiet man and reluctant to talk about his experiences, but alcohol has the influence of making him more talkative.
""Hark at the wind,"..." See in text (I.)
Mr. White directs his son’s attention to the loudly blowing wind outside, hoping to prevent his noticing Mr. White’s strategic disadvantage. Notice also that Mr. White is characterized as someone who can see grievous mistakes, but only after he has missed an opportunity to correct them.
"Father and son were at chess..." See in text (I.)
As father and son play chess, the family’s dynamic and personalities are revealed. Mr. White is impulsive and takes “unnecessary” risks, a personality trait that will continue to be relevant throughout the story. Furthermore, Mrs. White is characterized as passive but observant.
"a glance of disgust..." See in text (I.)
Sharp contrast from their earlier fascination with the idea of magic. Now the family begins to feel fear.
"e said, slowly. "It seems to me I've got all I want."..." See in text (I.)
This contradicts his earlier eagerness to take the monkey's paw from his friend.
"burst into laughter..." See in text (I.)
Even after the warnings and the fear in the soldier's tone, the family still regards the paw as a game, a joke.
""Don't you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?"..." See in text (I.)
The family is still ignorant to all of the soldier's warnings. Mrs. White is making light of the situation by making a joke even after the soldier threw it on the fire.
"It has caused enough mischief already..." See in text (I.)
While the soldier is discussing the paw very gravely, the family still regards it with excitement and interest, showing their blindness and naïvety.
""I should like to see those old temples and fakirs and jugglers," said the old man. ..." See in text (I.)
He's obviously very interested in what he considers the "exotic."
"a tall, burly man..." See in text (I.)
The fact that the sergeant-major is such a big, tough, weathered man makes his fantastic tale about the monkey's paw more credible. The soldier is obviously not a nervous, sensitive type, but his experiences with the mummified paw have made a strong impression on him.
"There was no reply; the old woman's face was white, her eyes staring, and her breath inaudible; on the husband's face was a look such as his friend the sergeant might have carried into his first action...." See in text (II.)
Both of the Whites are in shock. Mrs. White has turned pale and her breath shallow. Mr. White, however, is compared to the soldier Morris. Similar to how Morris must have looked going toward his first battle, Mr. White is full of dread, shocked, and fearful of the future.
" put that useful article of apparel beneath the cushion of her chair...." See in text (II.)
Notice Mrs. White’s inclination to hide the fact that she has been working. Because she believes the visitor is wealthy (due to his expensive dress) and hopes that he’ll be delivering the two hundred pounds they wished for, she wants to appear to be of the same social class.
""Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect, when he comes home," she said, as they sat at dinner..." See in text (II.)
Herbert is characterized as being lively and full of fun. This will make the home seem that much more empty and lonely when he dies.
"on the husband's face was a look such as his friend the sergeant might have carried into his first action...." See in text (II.)
The passage compares the expression on Mr. White's face to how Sergeant-Major Morris might have looked going into battle for the first time. The implication is that Mr. White is aware that something awful is about to happen, and he is preparing himself for it. His expression might indicate fear, as well.
"I could only recognize him by his clothing..." See in text (III.)
Through Mr. White’s words, readers learn that Herbert’s body was so badly disfigured that his own father had a difficult time in recognizing him. Mr. White is thinking more rationally than his grief-stricken wife: while she only wants to see her son alive again, Mr. White remembers the tricky power of the monkey’s paw. He seems to suspect that Herbert will not return whole, even if they wish for him alive again.
""For God's sake don't let it in," cried the old man, trembling..." See in text (III.)
The word "it" is significant in the passage. It emphasizes the contrast between Mr. White and his wife in regard to how they now think of their son. Mrs. White hasn't accepted Herbert's death and continues to think of him as he had been in life. Mr. White is realistic and recalls Herbert's badly mangled body. Mr. White's use of "it" also increases the suspense.