illustration of an open-faced monkey's paw with a skull design on the palm

The Monkey's Paw

by W. W. Jacobs

Start Free Trial

In "The Monkey's Paw," what are the types of conflict and some examples of each? 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The biggest conflict would seem to be man versus the supernatural. The monkey's paw itself is endowed with magic powers the rational mind cannot comprehend or explain. While the Whites all seem to view the sinister aura around the paw with little seriousness, Herbert is particularly skeptical, even mocking the...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The biggest conflict would seem to be man versus the supernatural. The monkey's paw itself is endowed with magic powers the rational mind cannot comprehend or explain. While the Whites all seem to view the sinister aura around the paw with little seriousness, Herbert is particularly skeptical, even mocking the paw's so-called powers.

Unfortunately, the paw grants the owner's wishes in unpleasant, even horrifying, ways. This culminates in Herbert dying in a freak accident at work when Mr. White wishes for two hundred pounds, a sum he receives in compensation for the loss of his son.

There are other conflicts in the story as well, such as man versus man when the Whites disagree on how to use their next wishes after Herbert dies. Mrs. White has the idea to wish her boy back from the dead using the paw. Mr. White is terrified of this idea, since Herbert has been dead for days and his body was so horribly mangled that he will no longer be recognizable. Mrs. White convinces him to make the wish, but when someone (presumably the resurrected Herbert) starts knocking on their door, Mr. White uses his last wish to return Herbert to the dead.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Monkey's Paw" there are both external and internal conflicts.

  • External conflicts

There is a conflict between Mr. White and Herbert with Sergeant-Major Morris. The sergeant brings the monkey's paw to the Whites home, yet he does not want to let Mr. White possess it. After speaking of the three wishes--talking about the third wish he causes his teeth to tap against the glass from which he drinks--he throws the paw into the fireplace. But Mr. White retrieves it from the fire.

After he grabs the monkey's paw, the sergeant-major tells White, "if you must wish...wish for something sensible." However, there is alarm in his voice. But, Herbert White disparages the tale of the monkey's paw. Later he is rather flippant about the paw, pretending to be horrified and fearful of it when his father says that the sergeant major did not want to take any money for the monkey's paw. Then, Herbert jokes,

"Why, we're going to be rich, and famous and happy. Wish to be an emperor, Father, ...then you can't be tossed around."

This is a flippant statement made by Herbert, who certainly seems to challenge fate.

Another external conflict exists with Mr. and Mrs. White against the mangled Herbert who has been caught in the machinery at work so that the Whites would be awarded £200 for their first wish. The poor, disfigured Herbert returns when Mrs. White demands the second wish that her boy return without stipulating that he be restored to his original health. Then, when they hear the hideous sounds of the resurrected Herbert, the Whites must use their third wish in order to wish Herbert back into the grave.  

  • Internal conflicts

When he wishes for £200 that will pay off the mortgage on the house, Mr. White is rather nervous. He jumps when the paw seems to have moved in his hand. "A silence unusual and depressing settled upon all three." Soon the parents of Herbert retire for the evening.
Herbert remains, gazing into the fire where he sees some horrible faces. One is so horrific that Herbert reaches for water to douse the fire. As his hand grasps the paw, he wipes his hand with a little shiver.

The next day, the Whites are still a little uncomfortable with what has transpired the night before. Mrs. White remarks, "The idea of our listening to such nonsense! How could wishes be granted in these days."

Mr. White says with a rather worried voice,

"Morris said the things happened so naturally...that you might, if you so wished, attribute it to coincidence....the thing moved in my hand; that I'll swear to."

Unfortunately, Mr. White's fears are well-founded as the next day a representative from Maw and Meggins informs the Whites that Herbert has been killed in the machinery at work, and the settlement is £200. Devastated by this news, Mrs. White suggests that night that maybe they should use their second wish to bring Herbert back to them.
Frantically, Mrs. White insists, so Mr. White makes the wish. Herbert does return, but not in the way they expect, forcing them to use their third wish to return poor Herbert to his grave.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Two main conflicts make up the story: man vs. fate and man vs. man.

In wishing on the monkey's paw to receive a sum of money, the Whites attempt to control fate. Their wish comes true, but tragically through the death of their son Herbert. They receive the money, but in no way did they control their fate.

At the conclusion of the story, Mrs. White wants to use the monkey's paw again, this time to wish their son back to life. Mr. White opposes this vehemently, but finally gives in to her desperate plan. This sets the stage for the final conflict. When it seems that Herbert, out of his grave, stands on their porch, knocking to come in, Mrs. White struggles to unbolt the door to let him in, but her husband struggles to find the monkey's paw to make a third wish, that Herbert go back to his grave. Mr. White wins this conflict as Herbert suddenly disappears.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team