The central object and symbol of the story, the monkey’s paw is “an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy.” Sergeant-Major Morris brings the monkey’s paw to the Whites’ house from his travels in India. According to Morris, a fakir, or holy man, put a spell on the paw so that “three separate men could each have three wishes from it”—so that he could “show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow.” The paw represents individuals’ attempts to change their fates through their own actions and the dire consequences they will face because it. Jacobs shows this by having Mr. White wish upon the paw and suffer horrible consequences after getting what he wished for, in the form of the monetary reward after his son Herbert is killed, and a potentially mangled corpse at his door after he wishes his son would come back alive.
Another interpretation of the monkey’s paw depends on the fact that the story never explicitly states whether or not the paw is actually magic, and the tragedies that befall the Whites after their wishes are not just coincidences or made up by their fearful imaginations. If one accepts the possibility that the paw does not grant wishes, then the symbol represents the false illusion that one can change one’s fate at all, and the disappointment one will experience when they ultimately do not get what they wished.
The Monkey’s Paw Quotes in The Monkey’s Paw
“[The monkey’s paw] 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.”
“If the tale about the monkey’s paw is not more truthful than those he has been telling us…we sha’nt make much out of it.”
“I don’t know what to wish for, and that’s a fact…It seems to me I’ve got all I want.”
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.
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.
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.