Themes in The Monkey's Paw
The Danger of Tempting Fate: Despite the repeated, grave warnings from Morris, Mr. White insists on using of the monkey’s paw even though he doesn’t have anything grandiose to wish for. After his first wish is granted—he does receive two hundred pounds, albeit through the death of his son—he is reluctant to see what other horrific, roundabout way the paw might fulfill his desires. His second wish, to bring back his dead son, is only pursued due to the insistence of his grief-stricken wife. As something—a mangled, reanimated corpse?—nears the door, Mr. White uses his last wish to undo his second. Without the flippant greed of the first wish, the other two might not have happened. In this way, the story posits the the Whites have lost far more than they have gained due to their attempt to interfere in matters outside their control.
The Tension Between Fate and Coincidence: The central question for readers after having finished “The Monkey’s Paw” is whether or not the monkey’s paw truly causes those events to occur or whether the Whites are simply victims of unfortunate coincidence. The text seems to suggest evidence that points both ways. Although each of the wishes is fulfilled, there are plausible explanations for each version of events: Herbert fell into the machinery because he had been drinking the previous night; the knocking at the door was from a stranded motorist or lost person; the knocking ceases because the person outside wanders away, thinking no one is home.