In this chilling ghost story, it is clear that the number three appears in a number of different guises. There are three people in the White family, for example, and the number three is also attached to the monkey's paw explicitly. Note what the Sergeant-Major tells them about the monkey's paw:
"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir," said the sergeant-major, "a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it."
The purpose of the monkey's paw is to show men that fate rules their lives and that the force of fate cannot be fought against. The first two wishes of the White family show the way that three is perhaps the perfect number for this purpose. The first wish is always a frivolous one, the second wish is perhaps more serious, but then one final wish is allowed to sort out the mess that has been made by the other wishes, proving that fate cannot be meddled with. Three is also a number used frequently in fairy tales, linking this powerful story to that genre, where three wishes are often given to characters.