What is the magical nature of the monkey's paw?
Sergeant Major-Morris, a guest in the White household, after he had reluctantly procured the monkey's paw, on an enquiry about its special powers by Mr White, tells his hosts the following:
"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir, ... 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 sergeant furthermore explains that he had already made his three wishes and it is clear from his response to the question in this regard that he is anxious.
"I did," said the sergeant-major, and his glass tapped against his strong teeth.
He mentions that he had become the owner after the previous one had made his third wish which was for death. It is clear that Sergeant Major-Morris wants to get rid of the paw and he throws it into the fireplace. Mr White snatches it up against the sergeant's advice. It is clear that the Whites all think the story a fantasy and they are sceptical about the paws so-called powers. The sergeant warns them to wish for something sensible if they do use the paw.
Herbert later asks his father to wish for two-hundred bounds to release his property from debt. He does so and discovers later, to his utter despair, that his wish had been granted when Herbert's company pays them the exact amount he had asked for in compensation for Herbert's gruesome death when he was caught in one of their machines.
A week after Herbert's funeral, Mrs White realises that Herbert could be brought back to life if her husband should wish on the paw. He reluctantly accedes and some time later they are greeted by a knocking at their front door which gradually becomes more persistent. Mrs White rushes downstairs to open the door to whom she expects to be her son, brought back to life.
Mr White realises that the horrible injuries which Herbert had suffered in the accident and his time in the grave, would have turned him into a grotesque and unnatural creature who they would not recognise. The thought of meeting his son in this condition is too ghastly for him to contemplate and he desperately wishes for his son to be dead again. The knocking ceases and when Mrs White is finally able to unlock the front door, there is no one there and the street is empty.
It is clear that the paw's powers had within them an evil intent, which the Whites had been warned of. They, however, refused to heed the sergeant's desperately ominous admonition and in their ignorance and scepticism, tempted fate and were tragically punished for their folly.
There is never any actual proof that the monkey's paw has any magical powers at all. The fact that Mr. White receives two hundred pounds as compensation for his son Herbert's death after wishing for the sum of two hundred pounds proves nothing. It could be a sheer coincidence that the two sums were the same. In Part II of the story, Mr. White raises the subject of coincidence.
"Morris said the things happened so naturally," said his father, "that you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence."
When Mr. White, at his wife's insistence, wishes for Herbert to return to life and come back to them, Herbert is never seen. Only a knocking is heard at the door. It could be anybody. And when Mr. White, who believes it is Herbert in a horribly mangled and decayed condition, wishes for the knocker to go away, it could be a mere coincidence that the stranger knocking finally gave up and went away. It was apparently the author's intention to leave the reader mystified as well as horrified. The monkey's paw may have been nothing but a curiosity that Sergeant-Major Morris brought back from India. Logically, it is impossible that a dried money's paw would have any kind of power at all—though the story allows the reader to decide.