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HenriCharlesGuerardMonkeysHand

Monkey's Hand, 19th century painting by Henri-Charles Guérard.

"The Monkey’s Paw" is a classic horror short story by the English author W.W. Jacobs. It was first published in the September 1902 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine and was also included in Jacobs’ short-story collection The Lady of the Barge the same year. The story has since appeared in numerous anthologies.

In the story, a family comes into possession of a mummified monkey's paw enchanted by a fakir to grant three wishes. Despite warnings not to interfere with fate, they make a wish upon the talisman. Their wish for two hundred pounds is granted the following day, but at a terrible cost.

The story has been adapted for the stage, radio, television, and film, and is widely referenced and parodied in popular culture. Its theme of wishes with consequences has also inspired many stories and movies.

Plot

On a cold and wet night in an out-of-the-way villa, Mr. and Mrs. White and their son Herbert gather around Sergeant-Major Morris to hear stories of India. Mr. White recalls some talk about a monkey's paw. Reluctantly, Morris takes out a mummified little paw from his pocket. He claims it had a spell cast on it by an old fakir to allow three separate men to have three wishes from it. The holy man had intended to teach a lesson to those who interfered with fate.

The family laughs, but the soldier turns white as he admits to having had his three wishes granted. He gravely recounts how he acquired the paw: the first owner, for his third wish, had wished for death. Asked why he still keeps the paw, Morris answers that it has already caused enough mischief. He then suddenly throws the paw on the fire. Mr. White snatches it and, despite warnings from his friend, insists on keeping it.

After the guest leaves, Herbert jokes about what his father might wish for. When Mr. White says he already has all he wants, Herbert tells him to wish for 200 pounds to pay off the house. Mr. White hesitantly does so then cries out. He swears that the paw moved in his hand as he made the wish. After the parents retire for the night, Herbert is frightened to see a horrible simian face in the dying fire.

The lady of the barge (1902) (14769861755)

Illustration for "The Monkey's Paw" from the 1902 anthology of W.W. Jacobs' stories The Lady of the Barge.

In the morning, both Herbert and his mother feel better and laugh at the nonsense. Mr. White, still weary, tells them that, according to Morris, things happen so naturally as to look like coincidence. Herbert leaves for work still joking about the money.

Later at dinner, Mrs. White notices a well-dressed man outside at the gate. She hurries in anticipation to the door and invites him in. The man identifies himself as a messenger from Maw and Meggins. In a panic, Mrs. White asks if Herbert is hurt. When the visitor quietly replies that he was badly hurt but not in pain, it takes the parents a moment to realize his meaning. Herbert was caught in the machinery, and the firm wishes to offer a certain sum as compensation. Mr. White looks at the man in horror and asks “How much?” At the answer of “200 pounds,” Mrs. White screams and Mr. White collapses.

A week after the burial, Mrs. White suddenly cries out in the middle of the night, having just remembered they have two wishes left. She tells her husband to fetch the paw and wish their son alive again. Shaken, Mr. White tries to reason with her. Herbert has been dead for ten days, and he had been unrecognizably mutilated. But his wife feverishly repeats the demand until finally he is forced to comply. They wait in silence, and in the dark when the candle burns out, but nothing happens.

Going downstairs for a new candle, Mr. White hears a quiet knock, then another. He flies back upstairs and closes the door. Louder knocks follow, alerting his wife who realizes it has taken Herbert time to walk the two miles from the graveyard. He begs her not to let it in, but she runs downstairs towards the insistent knocks. As she struggles with the bolts, Mr. White gropes around on the floor for the paw he had dropped. He finds it just as the bolts are drawn back and frantically makes his last wish.

The knocking suddenly ceases. He hears the door open and his wife wail in misery. Walking out, he finds the road quiet and deserted.

See also

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