PART A. INTRODUCTION
Language is one of the most effectively communicative ways among each
other. It is also a bridge linking us with the world civilization. Besides using
fluently native language, knowing foreign language is really necessary. English
is the key to open the integration - door. Learning English has become an
indispensible need for everyone.
Learning English not only knows about basic skills, grammar or
pronunciation but also knows about culture as well as literature. Literature is a
part of a country’s culture, heritage and history. It gives us a detailed preview of
human experience. Moreover, literature is also important in learning a foreign
language due to literature improves reading fluency through the expansion of
vocabulary and grammar structure. Thanks to reading literatures, readers will be
broadened knowledge about traditional culture, value and belief of people and
gives us a deeper understanding about language we are learning.
In early 20th century, American literature had important movements in
drama, poetry, fiction and criticism took place in the years before, during and
after World War I. The authors at this period struggled to understand the
changes occurring in society. There are various themes on war, love, people,
culture…which are known with many notable writers such as Ernest
Hemingway, Jack London, Mark Twain, Margaret Mitchel….especially O. Henry.
O. Henry is a wonderful creativeness. The most ordinary events (a menu,
a drab house, a walkway to the house ...) turned into the uniqueness of his work.
His story expressed the life experience and therefore his characters are placed on
the real people whom he was acquainted. He wrote about social issues and
economics of lower class. He put the voiceless people into his work with
compassion and sympathy. His works are from these experiences of his
observation and the social reality has been reflected in his books so much. The
America’s social reality in early 20th century was shown deeply and wholly.
Due to the reason above, the researcher decided to choose the study with
title “A study on social reality’s reflection in O. Henry’s selected short stories”
with the aim to do an analysis the social reflection expressed in the some short stories.
2. Previous research
2.1 In the world
In the research on “Social-realism in the short stories of O. Henry and
Perm Chand” by Tawnier Jehan, the researcher studied about the reality in
society was shown in stories of two writers. They take whether consciously or
not, what their predecessors pass on to them, through the great treasure house of
thought and feeling registered in their works. Then from their space in time and
place, the socio-political conditions of the immediate world influencing their
creativity and their contribution in turn, impact the lives of people; individual
lives and also certain section or class of society.
In another “O. Henry and his short story” by Meng Lingmin, The
researcher showed that O. Henry’s mouths-piece of lover people, the sympathy
for the poor people and its origin, reflecting the ordinary people and its origin,
characteristics of his writing.
2.2 In Vietnam
In Viet Nam, many people like and read his stories. There is also a study
on “Nghệ thuật xây dựng cốt truyện trong truyện ngắn O. Henry” (The art of
building plot in O. Henry short stories) by Pham Yen My, Van Hien University.
The researcher studied on how to build plot in O. Henry stories.
2.3 In Hung Vuong University
There is a study on “O. Henry’s warm human sympathy for common
people in his short stories: “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Last Leaf” by Phan
Thi Huyen. In this study, the researcher analyzed O. Henry’s warm human
sympathy for common people in two stories. However, this is the first time the
study on O. Henry’s social reality’s reflection in his short stories is carried out in
Hung Vuong University.
3. Research purpose
The research aims at:
- Scrutinizing the American society in O. Henry’s time, the author O. Henry
and his social reality’s reflection.
- Analyzing the social reality’s reflection in “The Gift of the Magi”, “The Last
Leaf”’ and “The Furnished Room”.
- Finding out the messages O. Henry tries to convey to the readers through the
real social pictures expressed in “The Last Leaf”, “The Gift of the Magi” and
“The Furnished Room”.
4. Research Questions
The research will find out the answers to the following questions:
- What is the social reality’s reflection in O. Henry’s selected short stories –
“The Last Leaf”, “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Furnished Room”?
-What is the message of O. Henry through social reality’s reflection in “The Last
Leaf”, “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Furnished Room”?
5. Research Methods
In order to accomplish this thesis systematically and adequately, some
research methods are used:
- Theoretical method: Studying the related documents to give background of
America society and American literature in at the end of 19th century and early
20th century, the life and career of O. Henry and three short stories “The Last
Leaf”, “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Furnished Room”.
- Analysis method: from data got from many different materials related to the
topic, analyzing to get the final results.
- Inductive and deductive methods: are used to analyze the social reality in two
6. Scope of the research
The study focuses on analyzing the social reality’s reflection in three O.
Henry’s short stories: “The Gift of the Magi”, “The Last Leaf” and “The
7. Design of the study
The study consists of three parts and references:
Part A. Introduction
In this part, the researcher gives an overall introduction about rationale,
research purpose, research question, methods, research procedure, and scope of
Part B. The study
Chapter 1: Literature review
In this part, the study focus on giving the relationship between reality and
literature, giving the background of American society, the feature of American
literature in late 19th century and early 20th century and O. Henry’s biography
and literary career and his works “The Gift of the Magi”, “The Last Leaf” and
“The Furnished Room”.
Chapter 2: The social reality’s reflection in O. Henry’s stories and in “The
Last Leaf”, “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Furnished Room”.
An analysis on the picture of social reality which is presented in three O.
Henry’s selected short stories about the life, destiny and love of human.
Chapter 3: The messages of O. Henry through social reality’s reflection in
“The Last Leaf”, “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Furnished Room”.
Through analyzing social reality reflected in O. Henry’s stories,
researcher will show some messages which the writer wants to send to readers.
Part C. Conclusion
This part summarizes the major findings of the study, gives implications,
lists limitations, mentions suggestions, and presents conclusion.
In this chapter, the researcher has given the rationale, previous research,
research purpose, research questions, methods, scope as well as design of the
study. The next chapter, researcher will present the relationship between reality
and literature. The researcher will also present the background of American
society and features of American literature in O. Henry’s time, O. Henry’s life
and his works “The Gift of the Magi”, “The Last Leaf” and “The Furnished Room”.
PART B. THE STUDY
CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW
In the chapter of the relationship between reality and literature, theoretical
background, the social background, the features of literature in late 19th century
and early 20th century as well as his biography and his short stories “The Gift of
the Magi”, “The Last Leaf” and “The Furnished Room” will be shown. The first
part is about the relationship between reality and literature. The second is about
background of American society in O. Henry’s time. The third is about
American literature’s features in the early 20th century. The last is about O.
Henry’s lifetime, his writing features, the two stories “The Gift of the Magi”,
“The Last Leaf” and “The Furnished Room”.
The relationship between reality and literature.
As being given in “Van hoc va hien thuc trong tam nhin hien dai”
(Literature and reality in modern vision) by Tran Dinh Su (2010), literature and
reality is a central problem in the theory of literature. According to the analysis
of American literary theorist M. H. Abrams, most of literary theories are all built
on the relationship of the basic elements of following art activities:
From the relationship between the works (literary) with the world, we
have ancient stimulation theory and reflected theory today. From the
relationship between the works with artists, we have creative theory. From the
work itself in the relationship between the artists and recipients, we have
content, meanings, symbols, games, entertainment. Therefore, literature
reflecting the reality is still a basic, important and indispensable principle.
1.1.1. Literature is the mirror that reflects reality and time.
From the Renaissance to modern times, the ideological of realistic
simulation is still primarily thought of criticism. As Stanhdal in Tran Dinh Su
(2010), “Van hoc va hien thuc trong tam nhin hien dai”, said that “Literature is
the mirror of social life”, or Balzac “the writer is secretary of the times” and
Lenin “if you are a great writer, your works reflects at least a few key aspects of
revolution”. For the masters of realism, the reality’s reflection means that looks
for the value perceptions, morality and aesthetics of life, strips of lies, exposes
all ulcers, rips all mask and throw oneself into the process of social progress.
The ideas that were expressed quite right about the relationship between
literature and historical life on the overall level, means that all the events,
characters, thoughts and feelings expressed in literature are the reflection of society.
Once there was a common assumption that along with everything else
that gave meaning to literature--the mastery of language and form, the
personality of the author, the moral authority, the degree of originality, the
reactions of the reader--hardly anything could be more central to it than the
text's interplay with the "real world." Literature, especially fiction, was
unapologetically about the life we live outside of literature, the social life, the
emotional life, the physical life, the specific sense of time and place. This was
especially true after the growth of literary realism in England in the eighteenth
century with Defoe and Richardson; in France in the early nineteenth century
with Stendhal and Balzac; in Russia at midcentury with Tolstoy; in England
again with George Eliot, Dickens, and Trollope; and finally in America with
Mark Twain, Henry James, and William Dean Howells, who became the tireless
promoter of a whole school of younger realists.
1.1.2. Reality in literature is the meaningful world created by practice.
According to “Van hoc va hien thuc trong tam nhin hien dai” (Literature
and reality in modern vision) by Tran Dinh Su (2010), the concept of reality as
objective existence, independent with human consciousness has been
inappropriate with the fact. The reality in literature is not same to the reality of
the social sciences, natural sciences and politics. The reality in literature closely
connects to politics, but it is not entirely similar with the political reality. As
L.Tolstoi said that we can understand that the literature’s reality is the
meaningful world that people live in it. The universe, nature, people, society,
culture, objects are only reality when they are meaningful for human. Practice
allows people to discover the sense of world for both life and arts. The mean of
things changes over the course of practice. Literature reflects the reality comprehensively.
Without this tissue of correspondence to the real world, literature would
be little more than a language game, a self-enclosed world operating entirely by
its own rules. Whatever passion or energy goes into a game, the moves have no
reference to anything outside the frame; and when it's over, it's over--until the
next game begins. Literature, on the other hand, especially fiction, has an open
grid. We live on intimate terms with the characters in any effective novel. They
sometimes seem more real to us than the people we know, in part because
they're purged of accident or contradiction, purified into whatever they
essentially are. We may feel shocked and impoverished when a novel ends, and
even speculate about what might happen after the curtain goes down. Literary
form lays down strict rules (such as rhyme and meter in certain kinds of poetry),
but in any actual work these rules are constantly being stretched and modified,
even flouted. The creative process involves a curious alchemy between our
perceptions and the words we find to express them, between the signifiers of
language and the object world to which it beckons.
Realism also encouraged writers to explore the social conditions created
by the growth of industry, the new working class, the expansion of cities, the
flow of immigrants, the changing position of women, the decline of rural life,
the impact of technology, the emergence of America as a new force in the world,
the impact of war and violence, the surge of nationalism and anti-Semitism, the
power of race and ethnicity, the dissolution of hierarchy, the loss of religious
belief, the rise of democracy and dictatorship, the accumulation of wealth, the
increase in travel and leisure, the shifts in manners and morals, the development
of the mass media, and hundreds of other social changes that could be
condensed into the trajectory of individual lives.
1.2. The background of American society in late 19th century and early 20th
In late 19th century and early 20th century, industrialization has brought
the society many important changes. The simple, frugal, self-sustaining lives of
the early pioneers were replaced with an industrial age which changed the
country almost overnight. Great cities were built along the coast lines and at
strategic central point; railroads links every part of the country; and sprawling
factories offered inducements workers to quit tilling the soil. These changes
were shown in many aspects about economy, politic and society. As according
to C.C. Regier in The Era of Muckrakers (p.5) “In the years that elapsed
between the days of Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe, and those of O. Henry, great
and momentous changes took place in both the economic and social structures
of the country”.
About economy, one of the most remarkable changes affected was that of
the economic condition of the country. In pioneer days, almost every family was
an independent economic unit. The men farmed the land, engaged in lumbering
and fishing, or carried on trade in their immediate localities. Land was fertile
and abundant; any family with energy could be self-sustaining. Often women
carried on such activities as spinning and weaving cloth for the market as well as
for family use in the home and little hired labor was required. The coming of
industrial age, however, changed this simple life. The great factories
concentrated wealth in the hands of a few people; the bringing together of great
numbers of laborers brought crowded living conditions and eliminated the old
independence of the individual worker. The spectacle of immense wealth and
extreme poverty began to be common.
This great concentration of wealth, together with the settlement of all the
public lands, made exceedingly slight any opportunity the working man might
have to achieve economic independence and caused all kinds of social reactions
in the country. The spectacle of train robberies, of organized bandit groups, of
riots and strikes in the laboring groups began to be a familiar part of the life of
the country. Tenements in the large cities brought almost unbelievable living
conditions in many cases, and the growth of big business put thousands of
workers on small daily wages. Craft and corruption were evident both in private
and in public life. Beginning in 1901 and 1902, rising to its full force in 1903
and 1904, and lasting until 1911 or 1912, a passion for change swept the country.
About political, public resentment during the thirty years previous to 1900
expressed itself in such ways as the “granger movement”, the “ailver crusade”,
and populism. Largely political, these movements found little support in the
respectable press for a while, but by 1904 there was a ringing chorus of abuses
and protests in the newspapers and magazines. The writers did not merely call
attention to the existing evils; they gave specific names and dates. Verbal bricks
were thrown at some of the wealthiest and most powerful citizens of the land.
These muckrakers, as the writers were called, were intelligent, educated men
and women who wore enraged at the corruption in municipal, state, and national
governments. They were fighting for fundamental principles, and they did not
hesitate to hit hard and often. Such were the existing circumstances when O.
Henry, William Sidney Porter in private life, began to add his voice the chorus
in the early part of the twentieth century.
Expansionism and political crisis alongside the social transformation, was
an important historical fact of United States in the 19th century. This was a
consequential result of industrial revolution. America in the early century was a
loosely structured society and every section, every state, every locality; every
group could pretty much go its own way. But gradual changes in technology and
in the economy were bringing all the elements of the country into steady and
close contact, better connectivity _transportation and the word (communication),
played an important role in breaking through the barriers and breaking down
isolation _ canals, toll roads, and rail roads on the one hand and publication of
penny newspapers, and telegraph system gave a greater sense of togetherness to
the people while big business provided order and stability. Yet the other side of
the story was that for many Americans this change from a largely rural, slow
moving, fragmented, national social order in the mid-century was abrupt and
painful which was often resisted. Unfortunately sometimes resentment against
change manifested itself in harsh attacks upon those who appeared to be the
agents of change especially the newly arrived.
About society, the industrial revolution that took place at the end of the
19th century changed our country in remarkable way. People left rural homes
for opportunities in urban cities. With the development of new machinery and
equipment, the U.S. economy became more focused on factory production;
Americans did not have to chiefly rely on farming and agriculture to support
their families. At the same time, immigrants from all over the world crowded
into tenements to take advantage of new urban opportunities. In the end, the
sweeping economic, social, and political changes that took place in post-war life
Urbanization (the rapid growth of cities) went hand in hand with
industrialization (the growth of factories and railroads), as well as expansion of
farming. Between 1860 and 1900, fourteen million immigrants came to the
United States. A great many of them settled in the port of entry. This
skyrocketing population led to many changes in America’s largest cities. New
buildings were constructed to house the growing population. New schools and
hospitals opened. Mass-transit systems were put into operation. Settlement
houses came into existence in the poorest neighborhoods. The rapid growth was
made possible by high levels of immigration. From 1865 through 1918 an
unprecedented and diverse stream of immigrants arrived in the United States,
27.5 million in total. In all, 24.4 million (89%) came from Europe, including 2.9
million from Britain, 2.2 million from Ireland, 2.1 million from Scandinavia, 3.8
million from Germany, 4.1 million from Italy, 7.8 million from Russia and other
parts of eastern and central Europe. Another 1.7 million came from Canada.
Most came through the port of New York City, and from 1892, through the
immigration station on Ellis Island, but various ethnic groups settled in different
locations. New York and other large cities of the East Coast became home to
large Jewish, Irish, and Italian populations, while many Germans and Central
Europeans moved to the Midwest, obtaining jobs in industry and mining. At the
same time, about one million French Canadians migrated from Quebec to New England.
Immigrants were pushed out of their homelands by poverty or religious
threats, and pulled to America by jobs, farmland and kin connections. They
found economic opportunity at factories, mines and construction sites, and found
farm opportunities in the Plains states.
The social background of the characters in O. Henry’s short stories
becomes much more comprehensive if we look closely at the author’s life, his
experiences, his friends and acquaintances.
1.3. The features of American literature in late 19th century and early 20th
American literature has developed on the basis of social history and
culture with American characteristics. American literature is still young and
develops along with the establishment of the country but it has a premise from
the rich diversity of history, cultural harmony and powerful races take place, as
well as being based on extremely unique folklore. There is not only the literature
of the native Indians but also the folklore of the peoples of white American
settlers on the land. National character and social development of the United
States over the period also strongly impact literature.
The 19th century and early 20th century witnessed this paradigm shift
across cultures and literature written there around saw it projected with sincerity
and firmness of purpose.
In most people's minds, the years following the Civil War symbolized a
time of healing and rebuilding. For those engaged in serious literary circles,
however, that period was full of upheaval. A literary civil war raged on between
the camps of the romantics and the realists and later, the naturalists. People
waged verbal battles over the ways that fictional characters were presented in
relation to their external world.
Using plot and character development, a writer stated his or her
philosophy about how much control mankind had over his own destiny. For
example, romantic writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson celebrated the ability
of human will to triumph over adversity. On the other hand, Mark Twain,
William Dean Howells and Henry James were influenced by the works of early
European Realists, namely Balzac's La Comedie Humaine (begun in the 1830s);
Turgenev's Sportsman's Sketches (1852); and Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856).
These American realists believed that humanity's freedom of choice was
limited by the power of outside forces. At another extreme were naturalists
Stephen Crane and Frank Norris who supported the ideas of Emile Zola and the
determinism movement. Naturalists argued that individuals have no choice
because a person's life is dictated by heredity and the external environment.
The realism of the 1880s featured the works of Twain, Howells and James
among other writers. American Realists concentrated their writing on select
groups or subjects. Examples of this practice include the factory workers of
Upton Sinclair and Rebecca Harding David, Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Charles
Chesnutt's stories of black life and Kate Chopin's views of marriage and
The writing during this period was also very regional. The industrial
revolution called for standardization, mass production of goods and streamlined
channels of distribution. America was leaping into a new modern age and people
feared that local folkways and traditions would be soon forgotten. Responding to
these sentiments, realistic writers set their stories in specific American regions,
rushing to capture the "local color" before it was lost. They drew upon the
sometimes grim realities of everyday life, showing the breakdown of traditional
values and the growing plight of the new urban poor. American realists built
their plots and characters around people's ordinary, everyday lives. Additionally,
their works contained regional dialects and extensive dialogue which connected
well with the public. As a result, readers were attracted to the realists because
they saw their own struggles in print. Conversely, the public had little patience
for the slow paced narratives, allegory and symbolism of the romantic writers.
America was shifting into higher gear and readers wanted writers who clearly
communicated the complexities of their human experiences.
At its basic level, realism was grounded in the faithful reporting of all
facets of everyday American life. According to William Dean Howells,
"Realism is nothing more and nothing less than the truthful treatment of
material" (Carter, 36). The reading public's preference for realism parallels the
changes that were occurring at the end of the 19th and into the 20th century.
1.4. O. Henry’s life and his works “The Gift of the Magi”, “The Last Leaf”
and “The Furnished Room”
1.4.1. O. Henry’s life and works
O. Henry, whose real name was William Sydney Porter, was rated as the
best short story writer in the United States in the early years of the twentieth
century. He was born in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1862. In 1877, when he
was fifteen years old, he left school to work in a pharmacy. At the age of twenty,
he was in severe pain and deteriorating health, so he had convalescence at a
farm in the state of Texas. He lived there two years and got acquainted with
many people and clearly understood western personality. Later, he talked about
them in vivid collection of short stories titled emotional Western Heart.
In 1884, O. Henry moved to the city of Austin (Texas) and became a bank
clerk. In 1877, he eloped with 17-year-old Athol Estes, daughter of a wealthy
Texas businessman. The period from 1887 to 1891 was the happiest time in O.
Henry’s life. He and his young wife rented a tiny set of rooms and began
thinking about starting a family. With his wife’s support, he began to write
stories for national magazines. Athol probably was the model for Della in “The
Gift of the Magi”, his most famous work.
Outside of work, he wrote and has had short stories published. And then
disaster stroke to him. In 1896, he was accused greedy coffers. Although he
swore his innocence, he still felt confused and fled to Honduras (a country in
Central America, between Mexico and South America). Six months later, his
wife died, he immediately returned and was arrested. He was convicted and
imprisoned in a federal prison in Columbus (Ohio) nearly three years.
In prison, O. Henry continued writing. At first time, he wrote the story for
the purpose of earning money to buy Christmas gifts for girls. Main pseudonym
O 'Henry has been used. After he released from prison, in 1902, O. Henry
moved to New York City, living by writing.
In New York, O. Henry got lucky at the beginning. He has signed a
contract with the New York World newspaper in which he would publish a story
each week. Now he can live and devote his life to literature. In 1904, O. Henry
firstly published Cabbages and Kings, taking themes from Central American
countries and had great success. Next, he published the collection The Four
Million (1906 ) , The Lamp Trimmer (1907 ) , The Heart of the West (1907 ) ,
Voice of The City (1908 ) , Roads of Destiny (1909 ) , Options (1909 ) , Strictly
Business (1910) and Whirligigs (1910) . Two sets Rolling Stones and The Waifs
and Strays were published in 1910. Porter died penniless and alone in 1910.
With the unexpected death of O. Henry in 1910 there came a scramble to
secure every scrap of his production for a subscription set. He has been
enormously creative; his total product, almost all of it the work of six years, was
over two hundred pieces, not counting the scraps in the thirteenth volume of a
complete set of his works. A slogan was adopted “England has her Dickens,
France has her Hugo, and American has her O. Henry.”
During his 10 year literary career, O. Henry wrote about 300 short stories.
Most of his stories are set in his own time, in contemporary present – the early
years of the 20th century. Many of them take place in New York City and deal
for most part with ordinary people: clerks, policemen, waitresses.
O. Henry was an outstanding humorist. He worked out and enriched all
the types of the short story: the anecdote, the adventure story, tales and sketches.
The best of his works were published in books: “Cabbages and Kings”, “The
Four Million”, “Heart of the West”, “The Voice of the City” and others. He was
most famous for his stories of city. O. Henry wrote nearly 150 stories with a
New York background. His works have considerable influence on American
literature. He was a born writer of great talent. The conversation is witty,
humorous and often exact and precise. O. Henry is one of the most widely
published American authors. His works have been translated into nearly every
language. He has been called “The American Maupassant” and is ranked among
the world’s outstanding short story writers.
1.4.2. Some main feature of O. Henry’s stories
126.96.36.199. Story Structure
“Porter's first biographer”, C. Alphonso Smith, pointed out in O. Henry
Biography (1916) that O. Henry's stories had four stages. In the first stage, O.
Henry gets the reader's attention with a striking opening situation, called "the
arresting beginning." Exposition takes place at this stage. In the second stage,
the rising action, the reader begins to guess the story's ending. In the third stage,
the climax, the reader learns that he or she was wrong about the ending. In the
fourth stage, the falling action, the story concludes. The ending is triumphant
with a surprise involving sudden suspense. This is the story's resolution.
188.8.131.52. Story Elements
O. Henry's stories were written to help people escape from their everyday
problems. The author had been a skilled storyteller since he was a teenager. He
used to entertain people in his uncle's drugstore and on the Texas ranch where he
lived as a young man. He wanted his stories to be entertaining and enjoyable. To
achieve this, he uses lively dialogue, vivid and quickly drawn descriptions,
humor, irony, chance happenings, and surprise endings.
In 1908, critic Henry James Forman wrote that "No talent could be more
original or more delightful. The combination of technical excellence with
whimsical, sparkling wit, abundant humor and a fertile invention is so rare that
the reader is content without comparisons." (According to website
184.108.40.206. Language feature
Porter has an immense vocabulary and an acute sensitivity to word usage.
Even such censorious critics as Fred Lewis Patee, who in The Development of
American Short Story condemned the “utter artificiality” of the speech of
Porter’s characters, had to admit Porter’s “verbal precision and wide range of
vocabulary”, conceding that “not even [ American realistic novelist] Henry
could choose words more fastidiously or use them more accurately. Porter’s
careful use of words was especially evident in his descriptive passages, which,
as Current – Garcia noted, are “cunningly fitted into the structure of his narrative
so that they are made to appear not simply gratuitous lingual ornaments but
integral part of the tale.”
The most significant characteristic of O. Henry’s language is humor. O.
Henry’s humor is sometimes supplied by character portrayal, sometimes by the
lifelike dialogue, sometimes by his style. It mainly derives from his style. In
some parts of the story and mainly in asides in which he addresses the readers
directly. O. Henry gives himself free rein in using long, high – sounding words
for humorous effects as well as using the big, pretentious words for very
ordinary and familiar things. He is playing as if someone said “terminate the
illumination” when he meant “turn out the light”.
We found Henry James Forman, of the editorial staff of the North
American Review, declares, he writes with the skills of Maupassant and with the
humor that Maupassant never dreams of, (“Forman 1908; 783). O. Henry was an
inveterate story teller, seemingly purely from the pleasure of it, but he never told
a vulgar of joke, and as much as he loved humor he would not sacrifice decency
for its sake. That’s what is called O. Henry’s humor. Soapy’s misfortune is one
of typical story told by O. Henry in his unique way, and the effect is that we can
smile with tears while turning his pages.
O. Henry's plots often involve coincidence. Coincidence (chance or luck)
also plays a key role in most of O. Henry's stories. The odd coincidences that the
characters experience add another element of humor to the story. Besides, the
common Porter’s trademark ones, which are his reversal of the narrative and his
reversal of his characters’ nature. Along the story, we see that the events are
interrelated to each other with coincidence and at the end there is what we call a
In these stories and others, the coincidence acts as a kind of warm-up to
the story's surprise ending. Coincidence is something that O. Henry enjoyed
using in his work along with the surprise endings. He loved it because both of
these tools together kept the reader attention and kept the suspense up for the
There are many coincidental plots in many short stories by O. Henry. This
is another characteristic of writing.
220.127.116.11. Surprise Endings
O. Henry's stories are perhaps best known for their surprise endings, to
the point that such an ending is often referred to as an “O. Henry ending.” As we
know the ending of an article has long been considered as a conclusion or just a
summary of a whole passage. O. Henry was called the American answer to Guy
de Maupassant. Both authors wrote twist ending, but O. Henry stories were
much more playful and optimistic. It means that at the end of an article the
mental status or the fate of the character has changed greatly but the whole
passage suddenly endowed with a great charm because of the ending. The twist
ending not only gives the readers a sudden fall but also make us think plausibly.
He set the story running in one direction and then he converts completely
the story just when the reader is convinced of the general direction of the
narrative. If we look back the total story the ending seems logical and plausible.
As a “plot – maker” and designer of incident he is an amazing genius. No one
can do better than him to hole the reader in suspense. More than that, the reader
scarcely knows that he is suspended until the very close to the end of the story.
Just as turn on the lights and the whole tale is revealed in it’s entirely.
1.4.3. O. Henry’s selected short stories: “The Gift of the Magi”, “The Last Leaf”
and “The Furnished Room”
18.104.22.168. The Gift of the Magi
The Gift of the Magi is one of the best-known American short stories,
celebrated by American short-story writer - William Sydney Porter, who wrote it
under the pseudonym O. Henry and was published in 1906 in a collection of his
short stories, The Four Million. Like The Furnished Room, and The Ransom of
Red Chief, The Gift of the Magi also bears simple yet effective use of
paradoxical coincidences to produce ironic endings. The story contains many of
the elements for which O. Henry is widely known, including poor, workingclass characters, a humorous tone, realistic detail, and a surprise ending. A major
reason given for its enduring appeal is its affirmation of unselfish love. Such
love, the story and its title suggest, is like the gifts given by the wise men, called
magi, who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn Jesus.
Written between 1905 and 1906, the story is close enough to everybody’s
heart. It is of universal significance of love and passion. The action takes place
in the New York City, in a very unassuming flat, a drab, gray, and decaying flat.
The occasion is the festive Christmas Eve.
The story talks about a poor couple. They live in a shabby flat but they
love each other. The wife is Della Dillingham Young. And the husband is Jim.
Della's beautiful, brown, knee-length hair is one of the two great treasures of the
poor couple. The other is Jim's gold watch.
With her new funds, only $1.87, Della is able to find Jim the perfect
present: an elegant platinum watch chain for his watch. It is $21, and she buys it.
Jim arrives at 7pm to find Della waiting by the door and stares fixedly at her, not
able to understand that Della's hair is gone. After a little while, Jim gives Della
her present, explaining that his reaction will make sense when she opens it.
Della opens it and cries out in joy, only to burst into tears immediately
afterward. Jim has given her the set of fancy combs she's wanted for ages, only
now she has no hair for them. Jim nurses Della out of her sobs. Once she's
recovered she gives Jim his present, holding out the watch chain. Jim smile. He
sold his watch to buy Della's combs, he explains. He recommends they put away
their presents and have dinner. As they do so, the narrator brings the story to a
close by pronouncing that Della and Jim are the wisest of everyone who gives
gifts. They are the magi.
The story consists of three characters: Della, Jim and Madame Softronie.
Della is Jim’s wife. She is loving, warm, selfless. She loves Jim so much. Jim's
job is not so great. He's the only breadwinner for the Dillingham Young family
(that is, him and Della), and it seems he works long hours, but his salary is low.
He and Della are struggling just to pay the expenses of their small flat. He
looked thin and very serious. Just like Della, Jim gives up his most precious
possession to find a perfect gift for the person he loves.
Madame Softronie, the only character in the story other than the Young,
Madame Softronie is the owner of a hair shop who bought Della’s hair. You
could say she represents "the cold, uncaring world" which exists outside the
haven of love Della and Jim have built for themselves. She also represents a very
different way of valuing things – purely for the money they fetch.
22.214.171.124. The Last Leaf
"The Last Leaf" is a short story by O. Henry published in 1907 in his
collection The Trimmed Lamp and Other Stories. Set in Greenwich Village, it
depicts characters and themes typical of O. Henry's works. It is among the 381
short stories William Sydney Porter produced in New York City.
The story takes place in New York in the area called Greenwich in the
1890s. It is really in only one place in this short story, and it is inside Sue and
Johnsy's house in a small part of the city west of Washington square. “The Last
Leaf” is not written in details, the text is simple and the sentences are short.
The setting is Greenwich Village, New York, 1905. Johnsy, Sue and
Behrman are three of the impoverished artists. One autumn, Johnsy suffers from
Pneumonia that has killed so many people at that time. Johnsy is in despair that
her life depends on the ivy leaves outside the window. She believes that the
moment the last leaf falls she will die. Her friend, Sue doesn’t know what to do
except worrying and constant nursing. Then on a cold, rainy, windy night, when
it is quite apparent that the last leaf is “dying”, Old Behrman, who regards
himself as “special mastiff-in-waiting to protect the two young artists”, defies
the cold, wet night to paint a leaf on the outdoor vine to restore the dying
Johnsy's will to live. The doctor tells Sue that Mr. Behrman died of pneumonia
during the night. "They found his body in your alley, next to a ladder and a
lantern, and a palette of green and yellow paints. Heaven knows what he was
doing out there." The last leaf, which raises Johnsy’s hope of living when she
sees it the next morning, is Behrman’s masterpiece that eluded him in life.
The characters are Sue, Johnsy and Behrman. All three is artist and they
live in the same old brick house. Sue is from the State of Maine and draw
pictures for magazines. Johnsy is from California and she wants to paint a
picture of the Bay of Naples. The two girls live together. Behrman is an older
man and lives downstairs the two girls.
In the short story by O. Henry "The Last Leaf" Johnsy is a slight young
woman who is petite. She is adventurous and daring or she would not have
moved to the artistic community of Greenwich Village, New York. She is living
in a community of artists and, she is an artist herself. Sue is an artist, who lives
with Johnsy, her roommate. She is young, and part of the "artist" scene of
Greenwich Village, of which O. Henry writes about in a rather mocking tone.
She is independent-minded. She is a caring individual, waiting on Johnsy and
hoping for her recovery. She is friendly to the burly Behrman downstairs, even
though he makes fun of her and Johnsy for their silly feminine ways. Behrman is
a person who wants others to be happy. Although when for the first time Sue
told him about Jhonsy's fantasies about the leaf, he reacted very badly. But to
give Johnsy moral support which can be provided to her by preventing the last
leaf from falling, he risked his life and painted a picture of the last leaf on the
opposite wall in the terrible cold weather. He is a down to earth person and a
gem in millions.
126.96.36.199 The Furnished Room
The Furnished Room, short story by O. Henry, published serially in 1904
and then collected in The Four Million (1906).
The setting of this story is in New York City. The story is about a young
man who entered a district in which a goodly number of houses catered to
transients. He inquired in vain at eleven different houses. On his twelfth try, he
finally found an empty room. The young man was searching for a young lady
named Miss Eloise Vashner, who he thought would be singing on the stage. He
asked the housekeeper if Miss Vashner had ever lodged in her house. He
explained that she was a slender girl of medium height. She had reddish gold
hair and a mole near her left eyebrow. After a futile search for his missing
girlfriend, commits suicide in his rented room, not knowing that it is the same
room in which his girlfriend had killed herself one week earlier.
There are three characters in the story, the young man, Mrs. Purdy and
Mrs. McCool. The young man is paying guests. Mrs. Purdy and Mrs. McCool
are owners of house. They knew the girl who the young man is searching for.
However, the do not tell to him because she died. This is opened in the end of the story.
In this chapter, researcher presented the overview about American society
and American literature in O. Henry’s time, O. Henry’s career and his stories
“The Gift of the Magi”, “The Last Leaf” and “The Furnished Room”. The next
chapter, an analysis on the social reality’s reflection through O. Henry’s social
ideas and social problem in the three stories will be shown.
THE SOCIAL REALITY’S REFLECTION IN O. HENRY’S SELECTED
In chapter 2, the researcher tends to do an analysis on the reflection of
social reality in three O. Henry’s selected short stories “The Gift of the Magi”
“The Last Leaf” and “The Furnished Room”. The social reality’s reflection will
be presented in three aspects: the New York City in progress, fate of urban
resident in O. Henry stories and the love between everyone.
2.1. The New York City in progress in O. Henry’s selected short stories
Livelihood in O. Henry’s short stories is extremely rich. He does not
focus on an object as the majority of the novelists. His short stories are the result
of the story, the man that he is interested in and worthy to record. That a person
likes him, he had footprints in countless lands, there are too much stories.
However, the story space in O. Henry consists of three main points: Texas,
Central America and New York. However, Texas and Central America
accounted for only a small part in the literary career of O. Henry. There are
about 80 of the nearly 600 comic books that he wrote, and he wrote most of the
New York, the nation's largest city, located in the eastern coast, has been
completely transformed over the period of writer Washington Irving. It is here,
at the beginning of the twentieth century, there has been the development of a
movement called the "New Yorkers" that W. Irving described in the book of the
Knickerbocker's History of New York. New York in O. Henry’s time was seen
as “a great international city”.
O. Henry had a special affection for New York. His feeling before the
mystery of this city and a desire to learn it has risen the value of his works. O.
Henry was very hard to get to know New York, his heart always flutter before
the novelty of it all. He paid attention to anything happening, tried to find the
relationship between the curling flows of the relentless of life in New York. In
the three selected stories, O. Henry draws a vivid picture of New York with its
streets and tenements and flats.
2.1.1 New York’s streets
In the 19th century, the New York City transformed by waves of
immigration and the strong development. A future project development named
"Commissioners' Plan of 1811" has expanded the street system of the city which
covered Manhattan. The street in this city was not divided by class. All streets
are numbered unanimously and do not have a road named with the name of
someone. The road system here absolutely is no roundabout, down five, seven
and no down boulevards sumptuous splendor. O. Henry once said that he wanted
to live on New York streets in all his life. The streets as well as the quarters
were described in detail and vivid in his stories. O. Henry brought the
characteristic of New York’s street into his short stories.
As in the story “The Last Leaf” published in 1907. It is one of 81 short
stories which were published in New York. The setting is in Greenwich Village
in the West City of Washington Square. At the beginning of the story, O. Henry
has described about the streets which seem to be typical in New York City.
In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run
crazy and broken themselves into small strips called “places”. These
“places” make strange angles and curves. One Street crosses itself a time
or two. An artist once discovered a valuable possibility in this street.
(The Last Leaf in O. Henry - 100 selected stories, p.178)
The winding road in the story is the result of the expansion and
development of New York City. Only in a small country, the streets have run
crazy. It is the evidence to the non-systematic construction in New York. This
has led to that county was divided into small areas and those areas acre in
strange angles and curves.
These roads run zigzag which made newcomers feel it difficult to move.
Suppose a collector with a bill for paints, paper and canvas should,
in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself coming back, without a cent
having been paid on account!
(The Last Leaf in O. Henry - 100 selected stories, p.178)
The streets is also described as narrow streets with full of moss.
Moreover, the streets interlace each other as chessboard.
That was in May. In November a cold, unseen stranger, whom the
doctors called Pneumonia, stalked about the colony, touching one here and
there with his icy fingers. Over on the east side this ravager strode boldly,
smiting his victims by scores, but his feet trod slowly through the maze of
the narrow and moss-grown "places."
(The Last Leaf, p179.)
In addition, in the story “The Last Leaf”, there is a specific characteristic
of streets in New York City. This is all streets are numbered. These streets are
not named with name of someone. At the beginning of the story, we met the
image of these streets.
So, to quaint old Greenwich Village the art people soon came
prowling, hunting for north windows and eighteenth-century gables and
Dutch attics and low rents. Then they imported some pewter mugs and a
chafing dish or two from Sixth Avenue, and became a “colony”.
(The Last Leaf, p.178)
“Sixth Avenue” is one of the basic particular of New York’s streets. It is
not the name of anyone. It is signed by number. For another example in the story
One was from Maine; the other from California. They met at the table d’hôtel
of an Eighth Street “Delmonico’s”
(The Last Leaf in O. Henry - 100 selected stories, p.178)
Two young girls, Sue and Johnsy were two strange persons coming from
two different countries. However, they met and then they lived together in a
boarding house. The place they met just the street named Eighth Street.
The road or the corner in O. Henry short stories was showed really and
clearly. It was created by meticulously observant and life experience of O.
Henry. He has traveled extensively and life had many ups and downs. These
streets are also places where he lived and wrote his works.
2.1.2 Tenement and flat
The arrival of so many new immigrants made the appearance of the city
change quickly, especially in New York. Urban leader planned to build housing,
parks and public buildings. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art was only
the largest and best known of many great museums taking shape in the late
Wealthy residents of cities were the principal force behind the creation of
the great public building and at times even parks. As their own material and
social aspiration grew, they wanted the public life to the city to provide them
with amenities to match expectations. As both the size and the aspirations of the
great cities increased, urban leaders launched monumental projects to remake
the way their city looked.
Many of the richest urban residents lived in palatial mansions in the heart
of the city and created lavish “fashionable districts”- Fourth Avenue in New
York City, Back Bay in Boston and many other New Yorkers of moderate
means settled in new suburbs on the northern fingers of Manhattan and
commuted downtown by trolley or river boat.
Most urban residents, however, could not afford either to own a house in
the city or to move the suburbs. Instead, they stayed in the city centers and
rented. Because demand was so high and space so scare, they had little
bargaining power in the process. Landlords tried to squeeze as many rent-paying
residents as possible into the smallest available space. And in New York, as in
many other cities, more than a million people lived in tenements. Tenements
were incredibly crowded with three, four and sometimes many more people
crammed into each small room.
All the reality was recorded detailed by O. Henry. With a miracle
creation, he turned the most ordinary events, especially the apartments, the
building of immigrants into the uniqueness of his works.