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The Monkey's Paw

The Monkey's Paw

by W.W. Jacobs

The Supernatural Theme

Do you or don't you believe in the power of the monkey's paw? This is one of those stories, unlike the Harry Potter books, where we aren't ever quite sure whether supernatural forces are at work or not. It's like "The Monkey's Paw" is trying to convince us of two conflicting things: 1) that the paw really is magic and directly causes Herbert White's death; and 2) that the paw isn't magic and Herbert's death just happens to coincide with Mr. White's wish for two hundred pounds.

But which is it? If you're feeling confused and uncertain, you're not alone. This sense of confusion is exactly what the characters are feeling throughout the story. Even the very rational Herbert White, who tries hard to show he doesn't believe in the paw's powers, sees (or thinks he sees) the face of the evil monkey in the fire. Rest assured that W.W. Jacobs wants us to be unsure, and that's a big part of what makes this story so eerie and so awesome.

Questions About The Supernatural

  1. Who believes in the paw more, Mr. or Mrs. White? 
  2. Does Sergeant-Major Morris really believe the paw has magical powers, or is he teasing the Whites?
  3. What do you think Mr. White's third and final wish was?
  4. If you were going to wish someone back to life, how would you word your wish to make sure the person didn't come back all gross and crazy and violent like a zombie?
  5. Do you think the paw is actually magical? Why or why not?
  6. Why do you think that Jacobs never really tells us if the paw is magical or not? How does the uncertainty impact the story?
  7. Create your own alternate ending for the story in which Mr. White doesn't wish Herbert dead again. What does Mrs. White see when she opens the front door? What does Mr. White spend his third wish on? Use this is your opportunity to settle the question of whether or not the monkey's paw is magical. 
  8. The story never tells us what Morris or the first owner of the monkey's paw wished for. Write your own story explaining what happened to these men, and why the first owner finally wished to die.

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The paw is fueled by the monkey's anger and vengeance, which makes it impossible to wish on it without negative consequences.

The story's ending proves that the paw's powers are real.

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