The Monkey's Paw

The Monkey's Paw Themes


The story never explicitly states that the paw was the reason for Herbert’s death, nor does it reveal whether the mysterious knocker at the White’s home is in fact an undead Herbert. Both events could be a coincidence: the money could have simply happened to be the amount they wished for; the knocking could be a stranger, animals, a trick of nature, etc. This uncertainty makes the reader question the nature of reality, leading them to believe in the supernatural rather than the logical. Superstition is thus one of the most important forces in the short tale because of how it affects the reader.


The Whites are a content, happy family. They want for nothing, as Mr. White mentions when he thinks of what to make as his first wish. He wishes out of greed, not out of necessity. They face the consequences of upsetting an equilibrium and asking for too much. It is especially telling that Herbert, the one who wants wealth and fame the most, is the one taken by death. Even the second wish is selfish and not rational – it is purely driven by emotion and what Mrs. White wants. This greed leads to disappointment and the downfall of the Whites; greed and lust for something one does not need can lead to tragic consequences.

Interfering With Fate

The story's main character, an elderly man named Mr. White, is told of a monkey's paw that has the power to grant three wishes. Despite being warned about the mysterious talisman–he learns that it had a had a spell put on it by a fakir (holy man) from India who wanted people to understand the dangers of interfering with fate–he takes the paw and wishes for money. His son then dies in an accident, and the family is given the money they wished for. This event emphasizes the story's theme, which is that interfering with fate, especially when driven by greed, leads to tragedy. The tale continues with the fulfillment of two additional wishes due to the supernatural force of the monkey's paw.

Dangers Of Wish Fulfillment

Reminiscent of the biblical story of Adam and Eve, "The Monkey's Paw" reminds readers to be careful what they wish for. The Whites’ downfall comes as the result of wishing for more than what they actually needed. Even though Mr. White feels content with his life—he has a happy family, a comfortable home, and plenty of love—he still uses the monkey’s paw to wish for money that he doesn’t really need. This wish comes true at a steep cost. It also results in Mrs. White having complete faith in the paw and wishing for something with greater stakes. This wish, too, leads to unhappiness. The author skillfully illustrates the dangers of wishes which can come true in unexpected ways.