The Monkey’s Paw

by

W. W. Jacobs

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The Monkey’s Paw Symbol Analysis

The Monkey’s Paw Symbol Icon

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 The Monkey’s Paw quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Monkey’s Paw. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Academy Chicago Publishers edition of The Monkey’s Paw published in 1997.
Part I Quotes

“[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.”

Related Characters: Sergeant-Major Morris (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Monkey’s Paw
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

“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.”

Related Characters: Herbert White (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Monkey’s Paw
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

“I don’t know what to wish for, and that’s a fact…It seems to me I’ve got all I want.”

Related Characters: Mr. White (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Monkey’s Paw
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Sergeant-Major Morris (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Monkey’s Paw
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
Part II Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Herbert White
Related Symbols: The Monkey’s Paw
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

“Morris said the things happened so naturally…that you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence.”

Related Characters: Mr. White (speaker), Sergeant-Major Morris
Related Symbols: The Monkey’s Paw
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
Part III Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mr. White, Mrs. White
Related Symbols: The Monkey’s Paw
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Monkey’s Paw Symbol Timeline in The Monkey’s Paw

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Monkey’s Paw appears in The Monkey’s Paw. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part I
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
Inside vs. Outside Theme Icon
Mr. White says that Morris mentioned something about a monkey’s paw the other day, but Morris says that it’s “nothing worth hearing.” Mrs. White asks about... (full context)
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
Inside vs. Outside Theme Icon
Morris says the paw “had a spell put on it by an old fakir…a very holy man. He wanted... (full context)
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
The Uncertainty of Reality Theme Icon
...he has, and his wishes really were granted. Morris also reveals that he got the paw after the first man used his third wish to wish for death. He only keeps... (full context)
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
...use them again, and Morris says that he doesn’t know. He then he throws the paw into the fire, but Mr. White grabs the paw before it can burn. Morris tells... (full context)
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
The Uncertainty of Reality Theme Icon
After Morris leaves, Herbert says that the family shouldn’t put much importance on the monkey’s paw, since Morris told many tall tales that night. Mr. White reveals, slightly embarrassed, that he... (full context)
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
...Mrs. White and sits down to play the piano. Mr. White wishes upon the monkey’s paw for the two hundred pounds. (full context)
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
The Uncertainty of Reality Theme Icon
Mr. White drops the paw and cries out, saying that he felt the paw twist in his hand “like a... (full context)
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
The Uncertainty of Reality Theme Icon
...face. Herbert gives an “uneasy laugh,” puts the fire out, and picks up the monkey’s paw. “With a little shiver,” he goes to bed. (full context)
Part II
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
The Uncertainty of Reality Theme Icon
Inside vs. Outside Theme Icon
...light of the next morning, Herbert laughs at his fright the night before. The monkey’s paw has been set aside “with a carelessness which betokened no great belief in its virtues.”... (full context)
Part III
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
The Uncertainty of Reality Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
Inside vs. Outside Theme Icon
...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.” (full context)
Fate vs. Freewill Theme Icon
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.... (full context)