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Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw” Literary Analysis


The Monkey’s Paw is a horror short story written by William Wymark Jacobs in the early twentieth century. Despite telling about mysterious events and matters, the story feels probable due to realistic settings and characters. The synthesis of the real and unreal world helps the author deliver the message to the reader that people should not wish for what they do not need. The present paper aims and discussing the major themes and symbols used by Jacobs to acquire a deeper understanding of the short story.

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Plot Summary

The story revolves around a mysterious Indian adulate that was enchanted to grant three wishes to its owners. In the first part of the story, Sergeant Major Morris shows Mr. White a mummified paw of a monkey and tells about its properties. Mr. White stresses the fact that Morris no longer needs the talisman and buys it in spite of the warning from the owner. Shortly after the visit, Mr. White decides to test the paw and wishes for two hundred pounds. Nothing happens immediately; however, the next day the factory pays the Whites the money, as their son dies in an accident at his workplaces. For the second wish, Mr. White asks to return his son to life, as his wife insists on it. However, during the night, when the family hears a knock on the door and Mrs. White rushes to open it, her husband reaches to for the paw and the knocking suddenly stops. Therefore, Jacobs leaves the story open-ended, making the reader wonder if the third wish was to return his son to his grave.


There are two central themes in the story are fate and the nature of wishes. First, the author shows that not accepting one’s destiny and trying to alter it may result in adverse events. “He wanted to show that fate ruled people’s lives and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow” (Jacobs, n.d., para. 24). Indeed, Mr. White learned the lesson and decided to deal with the consequences of his second wish and asked to return his son to his grave. Second, the author warns the reader about being careful about what they wish. People tend to desire for things they do not need and getting these things may lead to unhappiness. It is symbolic that the monkey’s paw comes from India where people believe in laws of karma that promote the idea of fate and austerity. Even though there are themes that can be traced in the short story, the two mentioned above are the most evident.


The most evident symbol in the short story is the monkey’s paw that represents human greed. The Whites ask for money because of their greed and not because they need it. As a result, the one willing for wealth the most, his son Herbert, is taken by the paw. At the same time, there is a less noticeable symbol that needs mentioning, the chess. At the beginning of the story, Mr. White and Sergeant Major Morris play the game while talking about the ominous talisman. Chess is an Indian game of cause and effect and sometimes being greedy and taking a pawn (or two hundred pounds) may result in losing a queen (or a son). Therefore, the game may be considered the symbol of karma. The two symbols used by Jacobs coincide with the two central themes mentioned above.


The Monkey’s Paw is a carefully thought through short story that makes the reader wonder about his or her wishes. The major themes of the story are interfering with fate and the consequences of desires that are addressed through the symbol of greed, the paw, and the symbol of karma, chess. Additionally, the fact the Jacobs leaves the story open-ended provokes further analysis and projection. In conclusion, the short story is a valuable piece of literature that teaches important life lessons.


Jacobs, W. W. (n.d.). The Monkey’s Paw. Web.

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