In literature, often the supernatural, though fiction, will tell us truths about our lives. A consistent method of identifying themes is to apply the supernatural concepts that make up the plot of the story, in this case fate, wishes, and magical fakirs, to our own lives and those of the real people around us. In The Monkey’s Paw, the Sergeant-Major states that the fakir cursed the paw to show people that they cannot change fate and punish them for trying. Applying that concept to the real world, we could conclude that the story is condemning our human folly, our selfishness, and our arrogance in what we know about the world, all of which Jacobs illustrates using not only plot but character and setting as well.
The opening scene shows Mr. White and his son playing chess.
The father, [Mr. White], whose ideas about the game involved some very unusual moves, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary danger . . .
In the above quotation, Mr. White’s character is introduced upfront as a man who is comfortable taking risks. Another characteristic is revealed as well when, after taking one step too far and putting his king in a position to lose the game, Mr. White tries the tactic of obfuscation. In doing so he demonstrates his willingness to create problematic situations without wanting to face the consequences. This is repeated later when Mr. White makes a wish on the Monkey’s Paw with very little hesitation after repeated warnings from his friend.
In the descriptions of the settings, especially in Part 3, Jacobs often uses very cold and very hot imagery.
He sat until he could no longer bear the cold . . .
The candle, which had almost burned to the bottom . . .
The old woman, with burning eyes . . .
These descriptors are creating, in addition to the drama from the plot, a different sort of battle: one of dark and light, good and evil, to wish or not to wish, all of which could represent the human condition, our constant indecisiveness, and our inability to know the difference between right and wrong.