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

The Monkey's Paw

by W. W. Jacobs

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What is the significance and role of the monkey's paw in Indian culture?

Quick answer:

The meaning and function of the monkey's paw in Indian culture is to show that fate rules people's lives and that anyone who interferes with it "does so at their sorrow."

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The withered old monkey's paw that Sergeant-Major Morris shows to the Whites has a long history behind it. Far from being just a body part of a long-dead animal, it is an artifact of great cultural significance.

According to the story, in the traditional Indian belief system, the paw stands as a symbol of the power of fate. The fakir, or holy man, who put a spell on it did so to show everyone that fate rules people's lives and that those who interfere with it "do so at their sorrow." One could say, then, that the enchanted monkey's paw is meant to serve a very important role in governing people's behavior.

Unfortunately, the enormous cultural significance of the paw is completely lost on the Whites. They treat it like it's all part of a game, a harmless piece of mumbo jumbo. Far from recognizing the inherent dangers of playing around with the forces of fate, they go right ahead and make a series of wishes, all of which give them considerably more than they bargained for.

As the fakir who put the spell on the paw hoped, and as Sergeant-Major Morris feared, the monkey's paw has demonstrated quite clearly the grim consequences for those who attempt to interfere with fate.

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