While a storm rages outside, Mr. White and his son, Herbert, are playing chess and Mrs. White is knitting by the fire inside their home. Mr. White remarks about how he doesn’t believe their guest will come on a stormy night like this. Herbert wins the game, and Mr. White shouts about how awful it is living in such a remote area when it storms.
The guest arrives, an old friend of Mr. White’s named Sergeant-Major Morris. Morris entertains the family with stories from his travels abroad in India. Mr. White recalls that Morris recently told him about a monkey’s paw. Morris reveals that the mummified monkey’s paw came from a fakir, an Indian holy man, who put a spell on the paw in order to teach people that fate ruled everyone’s lives, and those who tried to alter fate would suffer. The spell grants three separate individuals three wishes each.
Mr. White asks Morris if he has used his three wishes. Morris reports that he has, and another man, the first to possess it, used the third of his wishes to cause his own death. Then Morris throws the paw into the fire, but Mr. White saves it from burning. Morris tells him he should destroy it. Instead, Mr. White decides to keep it, and Morris tells him that if he wishes upon it, there will be consequences. The group goes back to listening to Morris’s tales of India and sits down to eat supper, forgetting about the paw for a while.
When Morris leaves, Herbert teases his father for giving Morris a small bit of money in exchange for the paw, which Herbert says must be an invented story like the rest of Morris’s tall tales. Mr. White says he would not know what to wish for, since he has everything he needs already. Herbert playfully suggests that his father wishes for two hundred pounds, since that would be enough to pay off the family’s mortgage, and his father complies. Mr. White cries out and drops the paw, claiming he saw it twist when he made his wish. Herbert remarks that the money does not immediately appear.
The next morning, the money has still not appeared, and Herbert leaves for his job in the factory. Though Mrs. White joked along with Herbert about the foolishness of believing in the paw’s spell, she finds herself eagerly awaiting a visitor who may bring the money. When a well-dressed stranger arrives at the Whites’ house, she excitedly greets him. He reveals that he represents the company that owns the factory where Herbert works. He states that Herbert was caught in the factory’s machinery and has died. He says that while the company takes no responsibility for their son’s death, he can offer the Whites monetary compensation—a sum of two hundred pounds. Mrs. White screams, and Mr. White collapse to the floor.
The Whites bury their son in a cemetery two miles from their house. Days pass and the couple resign themselves to their grief, barely speaking to each other. About a week after the funeral, Mrs. White has the idea to use one of the remaining two wishes on the paw to bring Herbert back to life. Mr. White hesitates, first saying that it was only a coincidence that the paw seemed to work before, and then saying that she would not want to see her son now, because he has been dead for ten days and his body was horribly disfigured by the accident that killed him.
His wife desperately begs him to make the wish, though, so Mr. White wishes upon the paw that their son would come alive again. The Whites wait, but no one appears. Eventually, they go to bed for the night. Suddenly, a knock comes from the front door, and then two more. Mrs. White believes it’s Herbert. She runs to the front door but can’t reach the bolt to open it. Mr. White frantically searches for the monkey’s paw, knowing he cannot let whatever horror is outside into the house. He finds the paw and makes his third wish.
The knocking ends suddenly. Mrs. White drags a chair over to the door and is able to reach the bolt. She opens the door and cries out in disappointment. Mr. White runs out the door and to the gate of their property, and sees only an empty road.