I.

Without, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlour of Laburnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. Father and son were at chess, the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the white-haired old lady knitting placidly by the fire.

"Hark at the wind," said Mr. White, who, having seen a fatal mistake after it was too late, was amiably desirous of preventing his son from seeing it.

"I'm listening," said the latter, grimly surveying the board as he stretched out his hand. "Check."

"I should hardly think that he'd come to-night," said his father, with his hand poised over the board.

"Mate," replied the son.

"That's the worst of living so far out," bawled Mr. White, with sudden and unlooked-for violence; "of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. Pathway's a bog, and the road's a torrent. I don't know what people are thinking about. I suppose because only two houses in the road are let, they think it doesn't matter."

"Never mind, dear," said his wife, soothingly; "perhaps you'll win the next one."

Mr. White looked up sharply, just in time to intercept a knowing glance between mother and son. The words died away on his lips, and he hid a guilty grin in his thin grey beard.

"There he is," said Herbert White, as the gate banged to loudly and heavy footsteps came toward the door.

The old man rose with hospitable haste, and opening the door, was heard condoling with the new arrival. The new arrival also condoled with himself, so that Mrs. White said, "Tut, tut!" and coughed gently as her husband entered the room, followed by a tall, burly man, beady of eye and rubicund of visage.

"Sergeant-Major Morris," he said, introducing him.

The sergeant-major shook hands, and taking the proffered seat by the fire, watched contentedly while his host got out whiskey and tumblers and stood a small copper kettle on the fire.

At the third glass his eyes got brighter, and he began to talk, the little family circle regarding with eager interest this visitor from distant parts, as he squared his broad shoulders in the chair and spoke of wild scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples.

"Twenty-one years of it," said Mr. White, nodding at his wife and son. "When he went away he was a slip of a youth in the warehouse. Now look at him."

"He don't look to have taken much harm," said Mrs. White, politely.

"I'd like to go to India myself," said the old man, "just to look round a bit, you know."

"Better where you are," said the sergeant-major, shaking his head. He put down the empty glass, and sighing softly, shook it again.

"I should like to see those old temples and fakirs and jugglers," said the old man. "What was that you started telling me the other day about a monkey's paw or something, Morris?"

"Nothing," said the soldier, hastily. "Leastways nothing worth hearing."

"Monkey's paw?" said Mrs. White, curiously.

"Well, it's just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps," said the sergeant-major, offhandedly.

His three listeners leaned forward eagerly. The visitor absent-mindedly put his empty glass to his lips and then set it down again. His host filled it for him.

"To look at," said the sergeant-major, fumbling in his pocket, "it's just an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy."

He took something out of his pocket and proffered it. Mrs. White drew back with a grimace, but her son, taking it, examined it curiously.

"And what is there special about it?" inquired Mr. White as he took it from his son, and having examined it, placed it upon the table.

"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir," said the sergeant-major, "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."

His manner was so impressive that his hearers were conscious that their light laughter jarred somewhat.

"Well, why don't you have three, sir?" said Herbert White, cleverly.

The soldier regarded him in the way that middle age is wont to regard presumptuous youth. "I have," he said, quietly, and his blotchy face whitened.

"And did you really have the three wishes granted?" asked Mrs. White.

"I did," said the sergeant-major, and his glass tapped against his strong teeth.

"And has anybody else wished?" persisted the old lady.

"The first man had his three wishes. Yes," was the reply; "I don't know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That's how I got the paw."

His tones were so grave that a hush fell upon the group.

"If you've had your three wishes, it's no good to you now, then, Morris," said the old man at last. "What do you keep it for?"

The soldier shook his head. "Fancy, I suppose," he said, slowly. "I did have some idea of selling it, but I don't think I will. It has caused enough mischief already. Besides, people won't buy. They think it's a fairy tale; some of them, and those who do think anything of it want to try it first and pay me afterward."

"If you could have another three wishes," said the old man, eyeing him keenly, "would you have them?"

"I don't know," said the other. "I don't know."

He took the paw, and dangling it between his forefinger and thumb, suddenly threw it upon the fire. White, with a slight cry, stooped down and snatched it off.

"Better let it burn," said the soldier, solemnly.

"If you don't want it, Morris," said the other, "give it to me."

"I won't," said his friend, doggedly. "I threw it on the fire. If you keep it, don't blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire again like a sensible man."

The other shook his head and examined his new possession closely. "How do you do it?" he inquired.

"Hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud," said the sergeant-major, "but I warn you of the consequences."

"Sounds like the Arabian Nights," said Mrs. White, as she rose and began to set the supper. "Don't you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?"

Her husband drew the talisman from pocket, and then all three burst into laughter as the sergeant-major, with a look of alarm on his face, caught him by the arm.

"If you must wish," he said, gruffly, "wish for something sensible."

Mr. White dropped it back in his pocket, and placing chairs, motioned his friend to the table. In the business of supper the talisman was partly forgotten, and afterward the three sat listening in an enthralled fashion to a second instalment of the soldier's adventures in India.

"If the tale about the monkey's paw is not more truthful than those he has been telling us," said Herbert, as the door closed behind their guest, just in time for him to catch the last train, "we sha'nt make much out of it."

"Did you give him anything for it, father?" inquired Mrs. White, regarding her husband closely.

"A trifle," said he, colouring slightly. "He didn't want it, but I made him take it. And he pressed me again to throw it away."

"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."

He darted round the table, pursued by the maligned Mrs. White armed with an antimacassar.

Mr. White took the paw from his pocket and eyed it dubiously. "I don't know what to wish for, and that's a fact," he said, slowly. "It seems to me I've got all I want."

"If you only cleared the house, you'd be quite happy, wouldn't you?" said Herbert, with his hand on his shoulder. "Well, wish for two hundred pounds, then; that 'll just do it."

His father, smiling shamefacedly at his own credulity, held up the talisman, as his son, with a solemn face, somewhat marred by a wink at his mother, sat down at the piano and struck a few impressive chords.

"I wish for two hundred pounds," said the old man distinctly.

A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a shuddering cry from the old man. His wife and son ran toward him.

"It moved," he cried, with a glance of disgust at the object as it lay on the floor.

"As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake."

"Well, I don't see the money," said his son as he picked it up and placed it on the table, "and I bet I never shall."

"It must have been your fancy, father," said his wife, regarding him anxiously.

He shook his head. "Never mind, though; there's no harm done, but it gave me a shock all the same."

They sat down by the fire again while the two men finished their pipes. Outside, the wind was higher than ever, and the old man started nervously at the sound of a door banging upstairs. A silence unusual and depressing settled upon all three, which lasted until the old couple rose to retire for the night.

"I expect you'll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle of your bed," said Herbert, as he bade them good-night, "and something horrible squatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you as you pocket your ill-gotten gains."

He sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing faces in it. The last face was so horrible and so simian that he gazed at it in amazement. It got so vivid that, with a little uneasy laugh, he felt on the table for a glass containing a little water to throw over it. His hand grasped the monkey's paw, and with a little shiver he wiped his hand on his coat and went up to bed.

Footnotes

  1. By the end of Part I, what has changed dramatically?*

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Considering Herbert's tone, how does he feel about the monkey's paw?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. What does this detail suggest about the old fakir who put a spell on the monkey's paw?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. What is not an effect of Morris's sighing and shaking his head?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. What does the passage imply about the White family?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The adjective “simian” means “monkey-like.” Mr. White's vision of a monkey’s face in the flames doesn’t bode well for him. It suggests that the paw’s power to grant wishes is real and that perhaps they should have listened to Morris’s warnings. However, there is also a rational explanation for Mr. White’s visions: he’s up late and has been drinking, so he’s susceptible to seeing horrible things in the fire.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Herbert’s flippant comment will turn out to be ironic: though he believes the money will never come, his words have another meaning, which is that he will literally not be able to see the money when it arrives. This serves as another example of Jacobs’s dark humor.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. These lines leave readers in suspense, wondering what caused the crash and if Mr. White is okay. In this way the tale’s suspense benefits from the distant narrative voice, allowing readers to make discoveries at the same time as the characters.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. W. W. Jacobs does not entirely abandon his humorist roots; this moment of slapstick comedy where Mrs. White chases her son around the house with an “antimacassar”—a noun which means a “clothing covering to prevent staining on the back of a chair”—is a stark contrast to the darkness in the rest of the story.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Notice how Morris’s reaction contrasts with the others’. While they joke about trivial things to wish for, he knows the true power of the paw. Once readers learn the paw’s method of granting wishes, they can see the dark humor in this line and why Morris reacts so strongly.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Mrs. White alludes to One Thousand and One Nights (first translated as Arabian Nights), a collection of Arabic folktales. In of the more well-known stories from the collection, a man named Aladdin makes wishes from a magic lamp, but the wishes do not always turn out exactly as he would like. This foreshadows the story’s eventual outcome and the trickery of the monkey’s paw.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. 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.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. What’s left out of Morris’s retelling is not as important as what remains. The man’s first two wishes don’t matter; all that is necessary to know is that they did not make him happy, so he chose to wish for death. Again, the tone of conversation around the paw is one that sparks both curiosity and a sense of menace.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. Notice how Morris is situated in a position of experience while Herbert represents youthful inexperience. It is clear that whatever Morris remembers, it causes him great distress, which contrasts to the smart curiosity of Herbert. Whatever the paw’s powers, it clearly changes people for the worse, setting an ominous tone and foreshadowing the consequences of using the paw’s powers.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. Why does Mr. White tell his son to listen to the wind?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. This line neatly encapsulates one of the story’s main themes. The expressed purpose of the paw is to show that people’s fates are predetermined, and any attempt to change fate will result in something terrible. Though the Whites don’t quite know the gravity of this statement yet, what’s fated will come to pass, one way or another.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. The noun “fakir” refers to a person of Muslim (or sometimes Hindu) religion who lives off of the charity of others. Often, fakirs were thought to be magical or in possession of objects with supernatural powers. This is partly because of the Englishes’ tendency at the time to view those of other heritages as otherworldly.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. This line is a little tongue-in-cheek. Morris’s “offhanded”—meaning “casual”—way of bringing up magic suggests that he not only has seen quite a lot of magic during his time in India but also that it’s now a mundane event to him. Though he tries to sound casual about the monkey’s paw, the Whites are intrigued by it after his admission that it’s magic. It could be argued that Morris deliberately piques the family’s interest, but readers have no insight into his motivations. The tone shifts, then, from wonder at the exotic to curiosity about the paw’s powers.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. In the narrator’s descriptions of Morris’s travels, the English fascination with “exotic” Asia becomes explicit. No scenes are described in detail, but instead are summarized into broad, romantic-sounding categories of danger and exploration. Predictably, the Whites gather around his chair, enraptured with his tales.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  20. 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.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  21. The adjective “rubicund” suggests that Morris’s “visage”—another word for “face”—is reddish or ruddy, likely from habitually drinking alcohol. Morris drinks quite a bit during his visit, and the Whites seem to keep up with him.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  22. Mr. White’s outburst shows both his dissatisfaction with his current situation and sets the stage for a desolate encounter with horror. Because of the family’s isolation, they are beyond easy reach of help in case of any emergencies—now a classic horror trope.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  23. 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.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  24. 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.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  25. This opening sentence sets the tone for the first part of the story: although outside the night is dark and stormy, inside the family is warm and safe together. Protected from the elements, they are able to thrive, content with one another’s company.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  26. What had Morris done after leaving his job at the warehouse?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  27. 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.

    — William Delaney
  28. 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.

    — William Delaney
  29. 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.

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

    — William Delaney
  31. 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.

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

    — William Delaney
  33. 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.

    — William Delaney
  34. The word "credulity" refers to readiness or willingness to believe something without evidence.

    — Susan Hurn
  35. The word "antimacassar" refers to a cover to protect the back or arms of a sofa or chair. Antimacassars were often crocheted. 

    — Susan Hurn
  36. The word "maligned" means injured by false or misleading statements about one's character or activities.

    — Susan Hurn
  37. A "talisman" is an object believed to have magic powers. In this context, the word refers to the monkey's paw.

    — Susan Hurn
  38. An allusion to One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of stories and folk tales written in Arabic and collected over many centuries. 

    — Susan Hurn
  39. The word "offhandedly" means casually. The sergeant-major speaks offhandedly about magic because he has probably seen a lot of it during his twenty-one years in India.

    — Susan Hurn
  40. "Fakirs" are members of a Muslim religious group known for performing a fast spinning dance as part of worship.

    — Susan Hurn
  41. Sergeant-Major Morris served in India, a country which was part of the British Empire until it became an independent nation in 1947.

    — Susan Hurn
  42. The verb "to condole" means to express sympathy. In this context, Mr. White and his visitor are likely discussing the visitor's difficulties in making his way to the house.

    — Susan Hurn
  43. The word "hospitable" means to demonstrate friendliness to guests or strangers. Mr. White is eager to see his visitor.

    — Susan Hurn