Father and son were at chess, the former, [possessing] ideas about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the white-haired old lady knitting placidly by the fire.
"To look at," said the sergeant-major, fumbling in his pocket, "it's just an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy."
He took something out of his pocket and proffered it. ... "It had a spell put on it by an old fakir...."
- Does fate's retribution walk in as a tempter on the feet of friends?
- Does fate's retribution get a stranglehold through the "credulity" and naivete of fools?
- Does fate's retribution play us against each other even as our own horror turns against us, compelling us to tell of the terrors we've seen?
"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."
One of the main ideas in W.W. Jacobs' short story "The Monkey's Paw" is that evil exists in the world and that even the best of people can fall victim to malevolent forces. Mr. and Mrs. White and their son Herbert are decent people. After all, their name is White. Despite the warnings of the Sergeant-Major, the family keeps the "talisman," which they suspect might just be a harmless curio. They can't imagine anything seriously bad happening to them.
The paw, of course, is under a curse from an Eastern religious man and is indeed evil. The Sergeant-Major tells the family that one man who wished on the paw finally, as his third and last wish, wished for death. Herbert doesn't really believe in the magic. He makes jokes about it and the Sergeant-Major's stories. Judging by the way he plays chess, Herbert might be described as someone who thinks logically. He can't fathom some mysterious evil. The father, however, is somewhat more "radical" and credulous (considering his method of playing chess described in the first paragraph). He buys the paw for a small token of a sum and suspects it may actually grant wishes.
After making the first very modest wish for two hundred pounds strange things begin happening. The piano strikes a chord and Mr. White claims the paw moved in his hand. Herbert sees strange images in the fire. The family has unleashed the sinister force of the paw and it ultimately destroys their lives as Herbert is killed to fulfill the wish for the money. When the mother wishes Herbert alive again the reader suspects he will be alive but in a mutilated condition because he has been maimed badly and had already been buried. His walking corpse is at the door in the last scene when Mr. White wishes it away. The paw's evil tempts the family, and their lives are forever changed because the "old fakir" wanted to illustrate through the cursed monkey's paw the main idea that fate rules lives and sorrow comes to those who try to improve or change what fate has set down as fact.
The main idea of W. W. Jacobs' short story, "The Monkey's Paw," deals with how no one can control their own fate or destiny. The consequences of the story also point out that you don't always get what you wish for; and in the case of the White family, you don't always get what you wish for even if you are guaranteed that your wishes will come true. The story also raises the question of why a conservative, sensible (and probably Christian) couple would make a wish on such an object, especially after they have been forewarned by the previous owner.