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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:

I.

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"If you keep it, don't blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire again like a sensible man."..."   (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,..."   (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,"..."   (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..."   (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 tall, burly man..."   (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...."   (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...."   (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..."   (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...."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.  

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