“In the huge new cemetery, some two miles distant,” Mr. and Mrs. White bury Herbert. They return to their house, which is now dark and quiet. At first, they can hardly believe their loss, but as a few days pass, they resign themselves to their grief. They speak to each other during their weary days.
The Whites appear to be deeply suffering as a result of Mr. White’s tempting of fate. The happy interior life of their home has been shattered by either the paw or by the consequences of industrialization (depending on whether Herbert’s death was a consequence of the wish or not).
A week later, Mr. White wakes to find himself alone in bed. He finds Mrs. White standing by the window, sobbing, and he asks her to come back to bed because it’s cold. She refuses, and he falls back asleep. His wife shakes him awake, crying out that she wants the monkey’s paw. She has just realized that they have only used one of their wishes. Mr. White questions, “Was not that enough?” But Mrs. White says that they must use the paw to wish their son alive again.
Mr. and Mrs. White’s relationship has turned from love to apathy because of Herbert’s death (potentially at the hands of the paw). Due to her grief, Mrs. White is willing to overlook the consequence they suffered before for their wish on the paw because she wishes to alter their fate rather than accept their tragedy.
Mr. White hesitates, saying that Mrs. White must be crazy, but she says that their first wish came true so their second will, too. He says that it was just a coincide, and when she begs further, he replies that Herbert “has been dead ten days, and besides he…I could only recognize him by his clothing. If he was too terrible for you then, how now?” Mrs. White continues to beg, saying she would not fear her own child.
Herbert’s death could have been a coincidence, rather than a result of the paw, or Mr. White could only be saying that in order not to cause further suffering by wishing again. Belief in the ability to alter fate is contingent upon one’s state of mind. On the other hand, Mr. White also seems to truly believe that a mangled corpse would be the consequence of the second wish.
Horrified by the thought of “his mutilated son before him,” Mr. White finds the paw and brings it to Mrs. White. Her face, “white and expectant,” frightens him, as she begins to cry out, “Wish!” He wishes his son alive again. They wait, her excited and him afraid, but nothing happens. Mr. White feels relief and they go back to bed, laying there silently.
Mr. White’s vision of his mutilated son contributes to the building atmosphere of horror. Pressured by his grief-mad wife, he chooses to once again to tempt fate by wishing upon the paw, but, like the first time, the results aren’t immediately apparent.
A knock comes from the front door, shocking Mr. White. He hears another knock, and then another. Mrs. White sits up, asking what that noise was. Mr. White claims that it is just a rat, and the knock repeats. Mrs. White screams that it must be Herbert and runs to the door while Mr. White tries to stop her. She begs him to let her go, saying that it must be Herbert, since the cemetery is two miles away, so he would only just be arriving now.
Just as Herbert’s death might be a coincidence, the knocking might just be a rat. Mrs. White is so desperate to alter her tragic fate that she will make excuses for the paw seeming not to work right away. Both Mr. and Mrs. White believe in the paw’s power to alter fate, but only Mr. White appears to fully understand the consequences of this power.
Mr. White begs Mrs. White not to let “it” in. She breaks free from his grasp and runs to the front door, but she cannot reach the top bolt to unlock it. As the knocking continues and Mrs. White pulls up a chair to unlock the door, Mr. White frantically searches for the monkey’s paw, knowing he must “find it before the thing outside got in.”
Mr. White hears the bolt opening at the exact same minute he finds the monkey’s paw. Frantically, he makes his third and final wish. The knocking ceases and he hears Mrs. White open the door.
Mr. White presumably uses his final wish to wish away whatever is on the other side of the door, as shown by the knocking ceasing as he makes his wish.
Mr. White hears Mrs. White cry out in “disappointment and misery” and he feels brave enough to run to her side and then go out the front door to the gate. All he sees outside is “a quiet and deserted road.”
Mr. White might have altered his fate by wishing away his son, or there could have been nothing at the door to begin with. The reality of the paw’s magic remains dubious. When Mr. White opens the door to find an empty road, it suggests that there could have been nothing to fear outside all along.