The Monkey’s Paw
Jacobs drew from a number of widely known literary sources in writing “The Monkey’s Paw” to make the story both familiar and unsettling. His most recognizable influence was the tale of Aladdin and the magic lamp, one of the more famous tales in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, or simply Arabian Nights, as Mrs. White calls it. There are numerous variations to the Aladdin story—including Walt Disney’s popular cartoon of the 1990s—but nearly all of them suggest that successful wishing is impossible because magic never works the way people want it to work. Jacobs also uses the same structural pattern in “The Monkey’s Paw” featured in most other “three wishes” stories: the first wish leads to unexpected and dissatisfying results, the hastily made second wish fails to reverse the first wish and only worsens the situation, and the third wish manages to undo the disastrous second wish.
Jacobs’s less obvious sources of inspiration, however, include the Bible and stories of Faust, the German scholar who sells his soul in exchange for the devil’s service. Mr. White recoils in horror after wishing on the monkey’s paw for the first time, insisting that the paw moved like a snake in his hand. This snake alludes to the biblical story of Adam and Eve, in which Eve discovers that the seemingly delicious fruit brings only misery. Similarly, the Whites—whose surname suggests unsullied innocence—discover that the powerful monkey’s paw grants wishes with a heavy price. And just as in the Faust stories, the fulfillment of Mr. and Mrs. White’s wishes brings only pain and suffering to others and therefore fail to satisfy them.