The Monkey’s Paw
Analysis of Major Characters
The possible transformation of Herbert White from a gentle, happy, and devoted young man into a threatening monster is the central horror of “The Monkey’s Paw.” A thoughtful and loving son, Herbert plays chess with his father and gently teases his mother. He is the only member of the family who works, so readers can assume that he supports his parents in their old age. Herbert believes that Sergeant-Major Morris’s stories are nothing but a pack of tall tales and treats the monkey’s paw with irreverent humor. He encourages his father to wish for an emperorship and then jokingly suggests he wish for two hundred pounds to pay off the mortgage. Herbert does not believe for a moment that the paw is magical, but he unwittingly predicts the outcome of the wish when he tells his parents that he knows he’ll never see the money. The sunny, skeptical quality of Herbert’s nature makes his eventual transformation, induced by his father’s wish, more horrifying. Mr. White fears that his son has become a horribly mangled, evil being, after wishing him back to life. The fact that Jacobs never actually describes who—or what—knocks repeatedly on the Whites’ door, however, suggests that the caller may not really be Herbert’s revived corpse.
Mr. and Mrs. White also undergo an upsetting change, transforming from a happy couple into parents racked by grief. During the sergeant-major’s visit, Mrs. White is as eager as Herbert and Mr. White are to hear the tales of his exploits abroad. She is more willing to consider the truth of the monkey-paw story than Herbert is, but she is far less credulous than her husband. Indeed, she often shows herself to be more quick-witted than Mr. White. For example, she understands the significance of the Maw and Meggins representative’s visit before her husband does, and she is the one to suggest wishing on the monkey’s paw a second time to bring Herbert back to life. The death of her son and the belief that it might have been prevented nearly drive Mrs. White insane. Her transformation is far less dramatic than her son’s, but she still changes from an intelligent, self-possessed woman into a raving, shrieking, weeping mourner.
Mr. White’s grief is twofold as he laments his son’s death as well as his decision to wish on the monkey’s paw in the first place. Unlike his wife, Mr. White realizes he should have never invited trouble by wishing for the two hundred pounds or to bring Herbert back to life. The fact that he believes an unholy creature stands knocking at his door instead of his son suggests that he feels guilty for having let selfishness overtake him when he made his wishes. Instead of passing off the knocking as an unrelated coincidence, he immediately jumps to the conclusion that evil stands on the other side, as if believing the paw has punished him for being greedy. His decision to wish the unwanted visitor away with his third wish may reflect his desire to not only save his and Mrs. White’s lives, but also redeem himself for his sins.