In the beginning of the story, Mr. White and Herbert are playing chess. Chess is a tense game full of risky moves. One wrong move can end the game for a player; hence its usage in the introduction of the story symbolizes the risky decisions made by the Whites. Unfortunately, their risky decisions related to wishes on the paw do not play out in their favor and instead lead to disastrous consequences.
The entire story is steeped in the motif of groups of three, starting with the very pattern of the story, which is divided into three parts. The story revolves around a cursed talisman – a monkey's paw that has the power to grant three wishes to three people each. Several other events and dialogues in the story occur in threes – the representative from Maw and Meggins who comes bearing news of Herbert’s death approaches the gate thrice before entering. Mrs. White urges her husband thrice to wish their son alive before he does.
Despite being warned about the mysterious talisman–he learns that it had a had a spell put on it by a fakir (holy man) from India who wanted people to understand the dangers of interfering with fate–he takes the paw and wishes for money. His son then dies in an accident, and the family is given the money they wished for.