The Monkey's Paw

The Monkey's Paw Study Guide

"The Monkey's Paw" is a chilling and suspenseful short story by W.W Jacobs, first included in Harper’s Magazine and then published in England in 1902 in his collection "The Lady of the Barge." The story has been included in dozens of collections, from horror and gothic anthologies to The New York Review of Books’ collection of classic fiction. In the story, Jacobs renders a creepy spin on the classic three-wishes folk tale of "Arabian Nights." The story revolves around a couple, Mr. and Mrs. White, and their son, Herbert. Upon a visit from an old friend, they acquire a magical artifact – a monkey’s paw. Anyone who owns it gets three wishes granted, but it becomes clear that the wishes come with a catch: whoever makes the wish must pay a great price. When the Whites wish for money, they end up receiving the wished-for amount as compensation for their son’s death. After a grieving, desperate Mrs.White wishes her son back to life, he returns to them from the dead as a zombie-like creature. At the last moment Mr. White uses the third wish to send him back to the peace of the grave. Jacobs uses foreshadowing to increase suspense in this tale, along with setting and imagery to add to the eeriness. A combination of horror and humor have made "The Monkey's Paw" popular with generations of readers.

There have been several different media adaptations of "The Monkey's Paw," one of the first being a one-act play in 1903, in which famous dramatist Louis Napoleon Parker performed at the London Haymarket Theatre. There have also been other plays, operas, a radio reading, eight separate films, and (most popularly) an episode of "The Simpsons." Stephen King even based his novel "Pet Sematary" (1983) on the themes of this story.