The Monkey's Paw Theme of Fate and Free Will
Are the Whites responsible for the bad things that happen to them, or are they helpless victims of fate, destined to suffer? Is it a combination of both? When we look closely at "The Monkey's Paw," it's full of questions about how much power people have over the direction of their lives.
This story is also about how we make choices. Think of Mr. White. He decides he wants to keep the paw, but it's Herbert who suggests the first wish, and Mrs. White his second one. He seems to make this second wish against his will. He knows it could be disastrous, but he does it anyway, either because he can't say no to his wife or because he wants to please her. His final wish, whatever it is, could be seen as a sign that his character is getting stronger. He is learning (rather late in the game), to take control of his life and to make good, careful choices on his own.
Questions About Fate and Free Will
- Can you find examples of times when the characters seem to be doing things they don't want to do – that is, acting against their will?
- Can the wishes we make impact the course of our lives?
- Does Mr. White learn to make his own decisions over the course of this story?
- If Mr. White had wished more carefully, could he have gotten some good stuff from the monkey's paw, or were his wishes destined to become curses?
- Does Mrs. White make Mr. White do things he doesn't want to do?
- Why does Mr. White follow Herbert's suggestion and wish for money?
Chew on This
Fear of seeing Herbert back from the dead forces Mr. White to start making decisions on his own.
Even if Mr. White had wanted to resist the paw, he would have no choice but to wish on it.