“The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs has an element of the supernatural wound throughout the plot. The point of view of the story is third person with the narrator imparting the thoughts of the major character. The main characters are Mr. White, the protagonist; Mrs. White, the mother; and their son, Herbert.
The story’s conflict circulates around an ugly, monkey’s paw [It seems to have a life of its own] that a visitor to the family brings to the house. Obviously, the sergeant-major manipulates Mr. White, so he would buy the talisman from him.
‘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.’
This is the crux of the story. Mr. White faces the decision to buy the paw; then, he must decide what he wants. His first wish will lead to the destruction of his family.
This is why the sergeant-major must be rid of the paw. He knew the possibilities. In fact, he warns Mr. White, when he mentions that the first man who had the paw wished for death as his last wish. Using reverse psychology, the sergeant-major passes the paw to the next unwitting victim: Mr. White.
The conflict then comes from Mr. White debating within himself: Should he use the paw and if he does use it, for what should he wish?
The old fakir spell begins and another conflict ensues: Man versus the supernatural world. The fakir knew that man could not resist the ability to wish for the materialistic things of the world. So he played a trick on each of the owners. Each wish would add to the horror of the previous wish.
Mr. White’s first wish--A seemingly benign wish for $200 pounds
Mr. White’s second wish—After discovering the death of his son, he is given $200 pounds. The son had been extremely mangled in the accident that killed him. Herbert has been dead for ten days. Mr. White knows that this is a terrible decision. After his wife begs him to make the wish and against his better judgment, Mr. White wishes for his son to come back to life. The conflict is almost unbearable for the protagonist.
Mr. White’s third wish—He hears a knock at the door. Mrs. White wants her husband to open the door that is bolted. The knocking becomes more and more aggressive. Mr. White’s fear is palpable.
He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey's paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.
Facing the unknown and horrific possibilities of his son returning to his family, Mr. White wishes Herbert back to the grave.
Mr. White faces his conflict. Knowing the devastation for the mother who will see her son after ten days in the grave, he completes the cycle. He makes the wish, losing his son forever.
Acknowledging the old fakir’s truth. Mr. White reaches the climax of the story: man must not interfere with destiny. If he does, he will suffer the consequences.