The Monkey's Paw

The Monkey's Paw Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Symbol : The Monkey's Paw

The story revolves around a mysterious cursed talisman—a monkey’s paw that symbolizes greed—everything that its owner could possibly wish for and the unrestricted ability to make it happen. This power makes the paw alluring, even to unselfish people who desire nothing and have everything they need. Mr. White, for example, is eager to procure the paw, even though he admits he is in need of nothing and is unsure of what to wish for. Herbert jokingly suggests that his father wish for money, which he does not need, just for the sake of it. This thought process illustrates how easily the paw can sway minds. The paw represents greed and brings out the selfish desire dormant in even the most content people. The wish is granted, but with unexpected, sinister consequences.

Symbol: Chess

In the beginning of the story, Mr. White and Herbert are playing chess. Chess is a tense game full of risky moves. One wrong move can end the game for a player; hence its usage in the introduction of the story symbolizes the risky decisions made by the Whites. Unfortunately, their risky decisions related to wishes on the paw do not play out in their favor and instead lead to disastrous consequences.

Motif: Cold Wind

Cold wind is a constant in the story, as it serves as a foreshadowing to several events. It is present when the Whites are waiting for General Morris to arrive, who brings the dooming talisman, when the representative from Maw and Meggins brings the news of their son, and finally on the night when the Whites wish their son back to life and reanimate a corpse.

Motif: Groups of Three

The entire story is steeped in the motif of groups of three, starting with the very pattern of the story, which is divided into three parts. The story revolves around a cursed talisman – a monkeys paw that has the power to grant three wishes to three people each. Several other events and dialogues in the story occur in threes – the representative from Maw and Meggins who comes bearing news of Herbert’s death approaches the gate thrice before entering. Mrs. White urges her husband thrice to wish their son alive before he does. Towards the end of the story, the mysterious visitor knocks on the front door three times before Mrs. White hears it and rules to answer. Jacobs’ story alludes to the popular notion in Western culture that bad luck comes in threes.

Allegory: The Holy Trinity

Keeping in mind the motif of three, one of the most common representations of a group of three in Western culture is the Holy Trinity from Christianity. It refers to Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. The monkey's paw hails from a faraway land where it was cursed by an Indian holy man – making it an anti-Christian symbol. Hence it disregards Christianity and the Holy Trinity, bringing unfortunate consequences to the family that indulges in it.