Posted: February 26th, 2023

The Monkey paw

W.W. Jacobs’ story “The Monkey’s Paw?


from The lady of the barge (1906, 6th ed.)

London and New York
Harper & Brothers, Publishers

by W.W. Jacobs


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.
“I should hardly think that he’d come to-night,” said his father, with his hand poised over the
“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 on 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 whisky 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 strange 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 off-
His three listeners leaned forward eagerly. The visitor absentmindedly 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
“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?” inquired 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.
“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 front finger 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 old man, “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
“Hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud,’ said the sergeant-major, “but I warn you of the
“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 his 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 into 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 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 shan’t
make much out of it.”


“Did you give him anything for it, father?” inquired Mrs. White, regarding her husband
“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 hands 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
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.


IN the brightness of the wintry sun next morning as it streamed over the breakfast table Herbert
laughed at his fears. There was an air of prosaic wholesomeness about the room which it had lacked
on the previous night, and the dirty, shrivelled little paw was pitched on the sideboard with a
carelessness which betokened no great belief in its virtues.
“I suppose all old soldiers are the same,” said Mrs White. “The idea of our listening to such
nonsense! How could wishes be granted in these days? And if they could, how could two hundred
pounds hurt you, father?”
“Might drop on his head from the sky,” said the frivolous Herbert.
“Morris said the things happened so naturally,” said his father, “that you might if you so
wished attribute it to coincidence.”
“Well, don’t break into the money before I come back,” said Herbert, as he rose from the table.
“I’m afraid it’ll turn you into a mean, avaricious man, and we shall have to disown you.”
His mother laughed, and following him to the door, watched him down the road, and returning
to the breakfast table, was very happy at the expense of her husband’s credulity. All of which did


not prevent her from scurrying to the door at the postman’s knock, nor prevent her from referring
somewhat shortly to retired sergeant-majors of bibulous habits when she found that the post brought
a tailor’s bill.
“Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect, when he comes home,” she said,
as they sat at dinner.
“I dare say,” said Mr. White, pouring himself out some beer; “but for all that, the thing moved
in my hand; that I’ll swear to.”
“You thought it did,” said the old lady soothingly.
“I say it did,” replied the other. “There was no thought about it; I had just—-What’s the
His wife made no reply. She was watching the mysterious movements of a man outside, who,
peering in an undecided fashion at the house, appeared to be trying to make up his mind to enter. In
mental connection with the two hundred pounds, she noticed that the stranger was well dressed and
wore a silk hat of glossy newness. Three times he paused at the gate, and then walked on again. The
fourth time he stood with his hand upon it, and then with sudden resolution flung it open and
walked up the path. Mrs. White at the same moment placed her hands behind her, and hurriedly
unfastening the strings of her apron, put that useful article of apparel beneath the cushion of her
She brought the stranger, who seemed ill at ease, into the room. He gazed at her furtively, and
listened in a preoccupied fashion as the old lady apologized for the appearance of the room, and her
husband’s coat, a garment which he usually reserved for the garden. She then waited as patiently as
her sex would permit, for him to broach his business, but he was at first strangely silent.
“I–was asked to call,” he said at last, and stooped and picked a piece of cotton from his
trousers. “I come from Maw and Meggins.”
The old lady started. “Is anything the matter?” she asked breathlessly. “Has anything happened
to Herbert? What is it? What is it?”
Her husband interposed. “There, there, mother,” he said hastily. “Sit down, and don’t jump to
conclusions. You’ve not brought bad news, I’m sure, sir” and he eyed the other wistfully.
“I’m sorry—-” began the visitor.
“Is he hurt?” demanded the mother.
The visitor bowed in assent. “Badly hurt,” he said quietly, “but he is not in any pain.”
“Oh, thank God!” said the old woman, clasping her hands. “Thank God for that! Thank—-”
She broke off suddenly as the sinister meaning of the assurance dawned upon her and she saw
the awful confirmation of her fears in the other’s averted face. She caught her breath, and turning to
her slower-witted husband, laid her trembling old hand upon his. There was a long silence.
“He was caught in the machinery,” said the visitor at length, in a low voice.
“Caught in the machinery,” repeated Mr. White, in a dazed fashion, “yes.”
He sat staring blankly out at the window, and taking his wife’s hand between his own, pressed
it as he had been wont to do in their old courting days nearly forty years before.
“He was the only one left to us,” he said, turning gently to the visitor. “It is hard.”
The other coughed, and rising, walked slowly to the window. “The firm wished me to convey
their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss,” he said, without looking round. “I beg that you
will understand I am only their servant and merely obeying orders.”
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.
“I was to say that Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility,” continued the other. “They
admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son’s services they wish to present you with a
certain sum as compensation.”
Mr. White dropped his wife’s hand, and rising to his feet, gazed with a look of horror at his
visitor. His dry lips shaped the words, “How much?”
“Two hundred pounds,” was the answer.


Unconscious of his wife’s shriek, the old man smiled faintly, put out his hands like a sightless
man, and dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor.


IN the huge new cemetery, some two miles distant, the old people buried their dead, and came back
to a house steeped in shadow and silence. It was all over so quickly that at first they could hardly
realize it, and remained in a state of expectation as though of something else to happen–something
else which was to lighten this load, too heavy for old hearts to bear.
But the days passed, and expectation gave place to resignation–the hopeless resignation of the
old, sometimes miscalled, apathy. Sometimes they hardly exchanged a word, for now they had
nothing to talk about, and their days were long to weariness.
It was about a week after that that the old man, waking suddenly in the night, stretched out his
hand and found himself alone. The room was in darkness, and the sound of subdued weeping came
from the window. He raised himself in bed and listened.
“Come back,” he said tenderly. “You will be cold.”
“It is colder for my son,” said the old woman, and wept afresh.
The sound of her sobs died away on his ears. The bed was warm, and his eyes heavy with
sleep. He dozed fitfully, and then slept until a sudden wild cry from his wife awoke him with a start.
“The paw!” she cried wildly. “The monkey’s paw!”
He started up in alarm. “Where? Where is it? What’s the matter?”
She came stumbling across the room toward him. “I want it,” she said quietly. “You’ve not
destroyed it?”
“It’s in the parlour, on the bracket,” he replied, marvelling. “Why?”
She cried and laughed together, and bending over, kissed his cheek.
“I only just thought of it,” she said hysterically. “Why didn’t I think of it before? Why didn’ t
you think of it?”
“Think of what?” he questioned.
“The other two wishes,” she replied rapidly. “We’ve only had one.”
“Was not that enough?” he demanded fiercely.
“No,” she cried, triumphantly; “we’ll have one more. Go down and get it quickly, and wish our
boy alive again.”
The man sat up in bed and flung the bedclothes from his quaking limbs. “Good God, you are
mad!” he cried aghast.
“Get it,” she panted; “get it quickly, and wish—- Oh, my boy, my boy!”
Her husband struck a match and lit the candle. “Get back to bed,” he said, unsteadily. “You
don’t know what you are saying.”
“We had the first wish granted,” said the old woman, feverishly; “why not the second.”
“A coincidence,” stammered the old man.
“Go and get it and wish,” cried the old woman, quivering with excitement.
The old man turned and regarded her, and his voice shook. “He has been dead ten days, and
besides he–I would not tell you else, but–I could only recognize him by his clothing. If he was too
terrible for you to see then, how now?”
“Bring him back,” cried the old woman, and dragged him toward the door. “Do you think I
fear the child I have nursed?”
He went down in the darkness, and felt his way to the parlour, and then to the mantelpiece.
The talisman was in its place, and a horrible fear that the unspoken wish might bring his mutilated
son before him ere he could escape from the room seized upon him, and he caught his breath as he
found that he had lost the direction of the door. His brow cold with sweat, he felt his way round the
table, and groped along the wall until he found himself in the small passage with the unwholesome
thing in his hand.


Even his wife’s face seemed changed as he entered the room. It was white and expectant, and
to his fears seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He was afraid of her.
“Wish!” she cried, in a strong voice.
“It is foolish and wicked,” he faltered.
“Wish!” repeated his wife.
He raised his hand. “I wish my son alive again.”
The talisman fell to the floor, and he regarded it fearfully. Then he sank trembling into a chair
as the old woman, with burning eyes, walked to the window and raised the blind.
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 burnt 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. The old man, with an unspeakable sense of relief at the failure of the
talisman, crept back to his bed, and a minute or two afterward the old woman came silently and
apathetically beside him.
Neither spoke, but both lay silently listening to the ticking of the clock. A stair creaked, and a
squeaky mouse scurried noisily through the wall. The darkness was oppressive, and after lying for
some time screwing up his courage, the husband took the box of matches, and striking one, went
downstairs for a candle.
At the foot of the stairs the match went out, and he paused to strike another, and at the same
moment a knock, so quiet and stealthy as to be scarcely audible, sounded on the front door.
The matches fell from his hand. He stood motionless, his breath suspended until the knock
was repeated. Then he turned and fled swiftly back to his room, and closed the door behind him. A
third knock sounded through the house.
“What’s that?” cried the old woman, starting up.
“A rat,” said the old man, in shaking tones–“a rat. It passed me on the stairs.”
His wife sat up in bed listening. A loud knock resounded through the house.
“It’s Herbert!” she screamed. “It’s Herbert!”
She ran to the door, but her husband was before her, and catching her by the arm, held her
“What are you going to do?” he whispered hoarsely.
“It’s my boy; it’s Herbert!” she cried, struggling mechanically. “I forgot it was two miles away.
What are you holding me for? Let go. I must open the door.”
“For God’s sake, don’t let it in,” cried the old man trembling.
“You’re afraid of your own son,” she cried, struggling. “Let me go. I’m coming, Herbert; I’m
There was another knock, and another. The old woman with a sudden wrench broke free and
ran from the room. Her husband followed to the landing, and called after her appealingly as she
hurried downstairs. He heard the chain rattle back and the bottom bolt drawn slowly and stiffly
from the socket. Then the old woman’s voice, strained and panting.
“The bolt,” she cried loudly. “Come down. I can’t reach it.”
But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw.
If he could only find it before the thing outside got in. A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated
through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage
against the door. He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment
he found the monkey’s paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.
The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house. He heard the
chair drawn back and the door opened. A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and a long loud wail of
disappointment and misery from his wife gave him courage to run down to her side, and then to the
gate beyond. The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.


The Monkey’s Paw
W. W. Jacobs


1. Why does the story start with the father and son playing chess? Does the father’s strategy at the chess
game tell you anything about his personality? If so, what?

3. Note any of the characters’ actions you feel are significant on the chart below. What conclusions can you

draw about each of the characters from analysing their actions?

Character Action Conclusion

Mr. White Yells about the foul
weather and the poor
condition of the road
they live on.

He’s frustrated because
he has lost at chess and
he is getting rid of his

Mr. White

Mrs. White

Mrs. White

Herbert White

Herbert White

Major Morris

Major Morris

3. Sergeant Major Morris describes the monkey’s paw in this way: “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. ” What does Morris’ statement mean when you first read it? What does it
mean after you have read the entire story? Is his comment significant? If so, why?

4. Why does Major Morris throw the monkey’s paw onto the fire and why do the Whites react so strongly?

5. What happens to Herbert White?

6. What do you think happened at the end of the story? Why does Mr. White beg his wife not to let “it” into

the house? What does he mean? What is he afraid of? Who or what was outside of the house?

7. What makes Jacobs’ style of writing unique? Read the following passage and think about how he puts

his words together to create a mood. Underline words or passages that seem important to you.
“…and a horrible fear that his wish would bring his mangled son before him ere he could escape from the

room seized upon him , and he caught his breath as he found he had lost the direction of the door. His
brow cold with sweat, he felt his way around the table, and groped along the wall until he found himself
in the small passage with the unwholesome thing in his hand.”

8. How does Jacobs set the mood and/or tone of the story? How does he build suspense? Think about the

way he uses silence as a way to create a mood. What does he describe at the end as the husband and
wife lie in bed waiting for their wish to come true?

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