In the wholesome sunshine of the next morning, Herbert laughs at the fears from the previous night. The dirty and diminutive paw looks utterly powerless on the sideboard. Mrs. White scoffs at how they listened to the old soldier’s tale. Mr. White says that the wish is supposed to happen naturally. Herbert rises to go to work and jokes with his father not to greedily spend his money when it shows up.
As the morning proceeds, Mrs. White is in a good mood, but she manages to still be annoyed at the sergeant-major and a tailor’s bill. Mr. White confides in her that he still thinks the paw moved in his hand, but she soothingly insists he made it up.
A well-dressed man outside the house catches Mrs. White's attention. The man pauses a few times and turns away, but then returns. Finally he knocks. Mrs. White brings the stranger, who is acting uncomfortable, into the room. She waits patiently for him to speak but he is quiet.
Eventually he says he was asked to come by Maw and Meggins, where Herbert works. Mrs. White immediately asks if her son is okay, and Mr. White tries to calm her. She asks if Herbert is hurt; the man replies haltingly that Herbert is badly hurt, but not in any pain. His cryptic words become clear, and her fears are confirmed. The man says quietly that Herbert was caught in the machinery.
The couple holds each other’s hands. The visitor coughs awkwardly and says the firm takes no liability for the accident, but wishes to convey their sympathy. They will also provide a sum for compensation. When Mr. White asks how much, the man says “Two hundred pounds.” Mrs. White shrieks; Mr. White smiles and faints.
Before they even know it is over, Herbert is buried in a cemetery and the couple is back at their house. They feel a strange sense of expectation at first, but soon resignation sets in. They are silent and weary.
One dark night, Mr. White hears his wife weeping and calls for her to come back to bed. He dozes off again but is woken by her scream: “The paw! The monkey’s paw!” He is confused and asks what she means. She is crying and smiling; then, she hysterically blurts out that she has just thought of what to do: she will use another wish and bring her son back to life. Mr. White is shocked and says she is crazy to say that. She is feverish and demands he go get the paw. His voice quavering, he tells her that the condition of Herbert’s body was so mangled that he could only identify him by the clothing; thus it would be too terrible to see him brought back. She is unconvinced and screams that he must go get the paw.
As Mr. White heads downstairs to the parlor, he is filled with foreboding. He is even afraid his unspoken words might cause the wish to be fulfilled. He grasps the paw and returns to his wife. She demands he make the wish and he obeys, saying, “I wish my son alive again.” The paw drops to the floor and he sits down, trembling. The night is cold as he and his wife wait. The candle flickers and goes out; they return to their bed where they lie there silently. The clock ticks. Mr. White feels relieved but becomes distressed by the darkness in his room. He lights a match to return downstairs for a candle. At the foot of the stairs the match goes out and a knock sounds at the door.
Frightened, Mr. White runs back upstairs. His wife asks what it was and he lies, telling her it was a rat. The knock, now louder, sounds again. She screams that it is her son and prepares to fly downstairs, but he grabs her arm. She struggles and Mr. White refuses to let go. She yells that she is coming for her son.
The knocks continue. Mrs. White breaks loose and runs downstairs. He follows and can hear her trying to undo the bolt on the chain. She calls for him because she cannot do it, but he is frantically searching for the paw on the floor. He needs to find it before the thing enters the house. The knocks become louder and more frequent. He hears his wife grab a chair to reach the bolt. He hears the bolt starting to open as his hands close over the paw and he breathes his last wish.
The knocking stops. Everything is quiet. He hears his wife open the door and cry out in disappointment. He joins her and looks outside, where there is only a streetlight softly illuminating a deserted road.
While one might not initially realize it, Jacobs did not intend for his horrific irony to induce merely melodramatic dread. The story of the accursedly detached simian anatomy could have been set in any time period of the past with just a few simple editing of the details. That the story is most definitely staged within the height of the British Empire during the Industrial Revolution is vital. “The Monkey’s Paw” is nothing less than a vicious critique of the British political, economic, and military systems of the day. The paw itself becomes a symbol of British colonialism and imperialism into foreign lands where indigenous peoples must either accept assimilation or face annihilation. The Eastern provenance of the paw and its curse can be seen as an agent of reckoning for the sins committed by the British in their ceaseless territorial expansion.
Likewise, the British capitalist system, which congealed from the steam and oil of the Industrial Revolution, falls under the glare of the author. His talisman of evil offers a juicy opportunity both to extend the possibility that the “curses” of the paw are mere coincidence and to rebuke a system grown so unwieldy with power that it quite literally has begun consuming its labor force. We see an economic system where those who own the means of production have become isolated and alienated from those actually responsible for the production of goods that create the profits they enjoy. Thus, employers have essentially begun a process of colonializing their own countrymen for the sake of exploitation: they act as if laborers were the backward, poverty-stricken natives in some foreign pagan country thousands of miles away. In the process, they have become exactly like the machines they run 24-hours-a-day. Not only do owners refuse to admit culpability for the daily acts of manslaughter taking place in their factories, but by their very act of handing over a token payment that falls far short of being adequate compensation for the value of a human life, they also prove they do not even possess the necessary emotional components to realize they actually are guilty.
The other primary theme at work in "The Monkey's Paw" is directly expressed by the fakir who introduces the talisman to the mechanized world of the British, far away from his own world of spiritualism and the occult. According to the Sergeant-Major from the British military, at any rate, the fakir “wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow.” That theme of predetermination of fate versus free will to chart one’s own destiny is put on explicit display throughout the tale’s focus on the wishes that are made and the consequences that arrive from the combination of existing fate and the desire to change it. It is in the way that both main themes of the story are implicitly intertwined that “The Monkey’s Paw” achieves its greatest level of meaning.
The unspoken reality is that the fate which is transformed by the wishes upon the monkey’s paw are themselves reflected by the wishes already made within a system that is hopelessly fixed against a family like the Whites. The truth of the matter is that Herbert's tragic fate is already sealed. Either he will live a long life as a mechanized drone serving to fuel the industry creating the economic wealth that powers the colonialist politics and imperialist military incursions abroad…or he will join that military and become a mechanized drone living out the very same in a way that differs only in the clothing he wears and the climate in which he wears them.
The ultimately irony of “The Monkey’s Paw” has nothing to do with the wishes made upon it: the irony is that Herbert White is destined to live a meaningless life in service to the crown and die a meaningless death in service to the crown whether a monkey on the other side of the globe ever lost its paw or not.