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Plot in The Monkey's Paw

Plot Examples in The Monkey's Paw:


🔒 6

""wish for something sensible."..."   (I.)

This helps explain why Mr. White's first wish was so modest. Most readers would probably wish for something far more sumptuous if they had such an opportunity.

"just in time for him to catch the last train..."   (I.)

This shows that the family has stayed up late and that the men have been drinking a lot of whiskey. It will provide a plausible, non-occult explanation for what happens with Herbert at the factory the next morning. He was hungover and sleepy; he wasn't paying proper attention to his work on the textile machines. The Whites continue to stay up even after Sergeant-Major Morris leaves them.

""Likely," said Herbert, with pretended horror. "Why, we're going to be rich, and famous and happy. Wish to be an emperor, father, to begin with; then you can't be henpecked."..."   (I.)

Throughout Part I of "The Monkey's Paw," Herbert consistently expresses disbelief in the paw's supposed magical powers, and he treats it with derision. Readers might suspect that Mr. White's first wish for two hundred pounds had been fulfilled by Herbert's horrible death at the textile factory because the sinister paw was taking revenge on Herbert for his skepticism and mockery.

"a glass containing a little water to throw over it..."   (I.)

That is, to throw the water over the flame in the fireplace that looks like the face of a monkey.

"Mrs. White said, "Tut, tut!" and coughed gently..."   (I.)

The new arrival, a tough veteran soldier, has undoubtedly "condoled with himself" in vulgar language, unaware that his friend's wife could overhear him.

""He didn't want it, but I made him take it. And he pressed me again to throw it away."..."   (I.)

This bit of dialogue seems intended to establish that Mr. White is the legal owner of the monkey's paw and therefore is the only member of the family who can use it to make three wishes. His wife and his son both defer to him and do not ask to make wishes of their own with it. Since there are three people in the family, it might otherwise seem logical that each of them would make one wish. Sergeant-Major Morris makes the terms of the fakir's spell explicit when he tells Mr. White:

He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.

It would appear that only men could make the wishes, so that seems to eliminate Mrs. White anyway. Only one man can make the three wishes, so Herbert would also be eliminated.

"and picked a piece of cotton from his trousers..."   (II.)

This seems to indicate that Maw and Meggins are textile manufacturers. There would be no cotton anywhere around the Whites' home, but there would be plenty of it flying about inside a textile-manufacturing plant. The mills would be full of complicated machinery, and industrial accidents such as the one that killed Herbert would have been fairly commonplace in those times. As the visitor tells the Whites, the company has no liability to pay any compensation for such accidents.

"brought a tailor's bill..."   (II.)

The tailor's bill reminds Mrs. White of family expenses and this in turn reminds her of the fact that she will need money to replenish the whiskey their visitor drank the night before. Furthermore, the reference to drinking serves to remind the reader that her husband and son were also drinking along with the sergeant-major. When readers learn Herbert was killed in an accident at work, they can either believe the monkey's paw caused it or that the son had stayed up too late and had drunk too much whiskey, so that he was tired and hungover and hence susceptible to injury.

"laughed at his fears...."   (II.)

Mr. White must have had a premonition that something bad was going to happen. He was the only one who felt that mummified paw move. He was the only one who saw the "simian" face in the fireplace. He was the one responsible for making the wish. The monkey's paw was his property, since he had asked Sergeant-Major Morris for it and had even paid him a small sum of money.

"In the brightness of the wintry sun next morning as it streamed over the breakfast table..."   (II.)

The first part of the story took place on a dark night full of wind and rain. Now the author opens the second part with the morning sun streaming over the breakfast table. This is to set the stage for the totally unexpected shock Mr. and Mrs. White are about to receive.

"His mother laughed, and following him to the door, watched him down the road..."   (II.)

This is intended to emphasize how much the mother adores her son and foreshadows her actions in part three of the story. 

""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.

"the other's averted face..."   (II.)

The man is finding it difficult to look at Mr. and Mrs. White as he brings them terrible news.

"as patiently as her sex would permit..."   (II.)

The passage characterizes women as being impatient by nature.

"The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road..."   (III.)

Does the road look quiet and deserted because Herbert has been whisked back to his grave? Or was it a stranger seeking help who has vanished into the night because there is only a tiny section of the road illuminated by a flickering gas lamp? What would have happened if Mrs. White had been able to get that door open before her husband made his last wish?

"The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house..."   (III.)

It couldn't have been Herbert knocking at the door in the middle of the night. But who else could it have been? Mrs. White had been standing at the window looking down the road in the direction of the cemetery while holding a lighted candle. Some stranger coming up the road from that direction would have seen that light "throwing pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls of the bedroom." The stranger might have had something important to communicate to the people who lived in the only other occupied house in the new development but found they were not at home. He would have kept pounding at the Whites' door because he knew there was someone in the upstairs bedroom. He may have given up just at the time Mr. White made his third wish. But where could the stranger have gone? Obviously a flickering gas lamp would only have illuminated a small section of the road, and the stranger could have passed out of the circle of light.

"I wish my son alive again..."   (III.)

Mr. White does not think of wishing that his son were alive again and exactly the same as he was before. It is noteworthy that the first wish was modest, but the second wish is outrageous. The Whites have gone from being modest and skeptical to sorcerers conspiring to raise the dead.

"He has been dead ten days..."   (III.)

Readers can imagine how Herbert would look after being mangled by machinery and then lying in his grave for ten days. Even his cheerful personality would have completely vanished after his excruciating experiences.

"and striking one..."   (III.)

Here, another light could attract the hypothetical lost motorist and provide an alternative possibility to the idea that the horribly mangled Herbert returned from the dead in response to his father's second wish.


"He sat until he was chilled with the cold, glancing occasionally at the figure of the old woman peering through the window. The candle-end, which had burned below the rim of the china candlestick, was throwing pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls, until, with a flicker larger than the rest, it expired..."   (III.)

The description will strengthen the alternative possibility that when the knocking at the door begins and grows louder and more insistent, it could only be a motorist in need of help, possibly completely lost in this desolate area and in need of directions. Mr. White established early in the story that there were only two occupied houses in this "out-of-the-way" new development. The hypothetical motorist might have tried the other house and found no one home; but he would be more insistent about getting someone to answer the door here because he had seen the light in the window and because it was his only hope. Mrs. White was standing right at the upstairs window holding a lighted candle in a china candlestick, and the light "was throwing pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls." The motorist could hardly miss seeing it because it was right at the upstairs window and would have been the only light in all the darkness in this desolate region. 

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