The Monkeys Paw
The Monkey's Paw'

The Monkey's Paw - Study Guide

Don't underestimate the power of magic! The Monkey's Paw (1902) by W.W. Jacobs is a cautionary tale about the evil that can result from tempting fate. We hope it is particularly useful for teachers and students studying the story.

Read the story: The Monkey's Paw, Character Analysis & Plot Summary, Genre & Themes, Symbolism & Allusions, Epigraph & Vocabulary, Quotes, Discussion Questions, Paired Reading, Useful Links, and Notes/Teacher Comments

Character Analysis & Plot Summary


Plot Summary

The story is set in England at the home of the White family, during a dark and stormy night (of course!). Their guest, Sargeant-Major Morris who returned from his post in India, tells them about the power of a mummfiied monkey's paw he brought back with him that a Fakir put a spell on, granting its guardian three wishes. He warns the family that while the wishes are always granted, "I warn you of the consequences." He implies that the wishes are always accompanied by a punishment for tampering with fate. Morris throws the paw into the fire, trying to destroy its evil forces once and for all, but Mr. White retrieves it, and the Whites decide to use the paw.

The family's first wish is Herbert's: he asks for enough money to make the final mortgage payment (200 pounds). The next day, Herbert goes to work and is killed at the local factory in a horrible accident. His employer refuses to claim responsibility, but makes a goodwill settlement of exactly...(you guessed it) 200 pounds. Though horrified by the mutilated outcome of their first wish being granted, Mrs. White talks her reluctant husband into a second wish: asking for Herbert to come back to life. There are three dramatic knocks on the door, Mrs. White fumbles down the stairs and with the door chain; meanwhile Mr. White is able to grasp the talisman just in time for one final wish, which is... [Read the story, we're not going to tell you!]

The Monkey's Paw, lemur hand
Lemur hand

Genre & Themes



The Story of Aladdin; or, The Wonderful Lamp
Arabian Nights: Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp

Symbolism & Literary Allusions


Literary Allusions

The Monkey's Paw: Fakir giving a petition to Emperor Jahangir, 1605
Fakir presenting gift to Emperor Jahangir

Epigraph & Vocabulary

The Epigraph Sets the Tone

Interesting Vocabulary

W.W. Jacobs, The Monkey's Paw
W.W. Jacobs


Explain what the following quotes mean and how they relate to the story:

The Monkey's Paw: Talisman
Christian Talisman, Breverl

Discussion Questions

1. What is the meaning of the epigraph and how does it relate to the themes of the story? Discuss "tempting fate."

2. Why did the Sergeant-Major bother holding on to the monkey's paw after the terror it caused him? Why doesn't Jacobs reveal the details of his wish to the reader?

3. Describe the superstitious symbolism of three's: three people being granted three wishes, three people in the White family, three knocks at the door.

4. Explain why the couple reluctantly decides to use the second wish to bring back their son, given their experience with the first wish.

5. What does the wife's fumbling at the door and trouble reaching the bolt symbolize?

6. What was Mr. White's third wish, and why does Jacobs leave it to the reader to figure it out?

7. The Story of Aladdin features a magical talisman in the form of a lamp. Compare and contrasts its role in Aladdin's fate, compared to the Whites' in this story.

8. Identify Jacobs' use of literary allusions to heighten suspense and fear in the reader.

9. Why does Jacobs suppress information about the third and final wish? What is the affect of this omission on the reader?

10. Discuss what story elements are particularly conducive to a supernatural movie adaptation, particularly the evil that comes from tempting fate. What music would you use?

11. If you were given the monkey's paw, would you ask for three wishes? If so, what would they be (to avoid tempting fate). If not, are you sure you wouldn't be tempted?

Essay prompt: Take it from here... if you were to continue writing the story, what would happen to the talisman? Who might stumble upon it and to what end? What becomes of Mr. and Mrs. White? Would you revisit the Fakir in India who set the curse on the paw?

The Hand
The Hand

Paired Reading Suggestions

Compare and contrast the themes and supernatural elements in The Monkey's Paw with:

The Monkey's Paw: 2013 movie adaptation
2013 movie adaptation

Teacher Resources
A Teacher's Work Is Never Done

Notes/Teacher Comments

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