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O. Henry’s Surprise Endings

Many adults who read O.Henry’s works are eagerly waiting for a surprise ending. (Rollins 155) O.Henry’s works basically all contain a surprise ending. They lead you on it the beginning with a thought that everything is going according to plan. He lets the reader think that they have it figured out by we don’t. He has something waiting for us at the end of the book. Something that would seem like it came out of no where. Hyder E. Rollins said “The conclusion is an enigma.”(155) He has the reader under suspense until the last sentence. This is shown in O.Henry’s story The Gift of the Magi. Where a husband sells his watch to buy his wife some combs she worshiped, and the wife cut and sold her hair to buy her husband a chain for his watch. This was such a surprise because you never expected this in the beginning. Also O.Henry had an idea that life is a surprise that the unexpected continually happens. (157) Rollins spoke about O.Henry saying that “He is then, a pure romanticist who strives earnestly for realistic effects.” (157) A romanticist is a person who acts on impulse. They hate conformity they dislike following the rules. They prefer to make there own rules, and they are also in touch with nature. They love the outdoors. Rollins is saying that O.Henry is a romanticist because of his idea. His idea about how life happens unexpectedly. It’s spontaneous so therefore you never know what kind of turn your life will take one for the better or worse. Eugene Current-Garcia said that “the most obvious technical manifestation of O.Henry’s delight in the unexpected is in his famous surprise endings.”(Current-Garcia 137) O.Henry’s way of using these surprise ending really played a big part in most of his stories.

Another theme would of O.Henry’s his most commonly used theme when he reverses everything on you. This means when he gives you a story and as soon as you think you have it figured out he changes it completely. He lets you think you know what kind of person the main character is while he has a plan to complete make that person plan a completely different role. It’s not like surprise ending, but more like a reversal of the character completely from the way they act to the way they dress, talk, and walk. O.Henry liked to leave the reader guessing not only on the ending, but on what the characters would do next. For example in “The Princess and the Puma” the princess is portrayed in the beginning of the book as a princess one who lives highly. While she is really a pistol wearing, roping, riding cowgirl who has to fight off a mountain lion when she is suppose to be rescued.

Technique was something that O.Henry was good at using. He used many different techniques and different styles in his writing one of the techniques his like using was local color. O.Henry’s writings take the speech patterns and rhythms of the common folk and adds “vivacity, variety, and interest of his stories” said Eugene Current-Garcia. (Current-Garcia 142) He came directly from a southern background being born in North Carolina. The cultural tradition he inherited brought out a deep influence on his literary career. About thirty of his stories were placed in the old south setting or had to do with activities and attitudes of southern characters. When he writes he puts out a realistic dialogue from his childhood, his own history, and first hand observations of the various classes of people he knew and lived with.(Current-Garcia 12) O.Henry was born in the south so most of his stories talk about the lifestyles of the people in the south. His characters models are people who were around O.Henry. His narrative methods came from him dealing with Texas outlaws also from his childhood in the south. (Current-Garcia 4) There is a story where he talks about life with the outlaws in Texas. That is because he was there and witnessed it first hand. So he takes them and puts them into his story so that they can become major characters based on the way they were around him. O.Henry moved from the south to Texas and was later in jail all of these things were reason that were put into his stories. Since he was in jail some of his characters are based on people he met in jail or some of them are based on how the jail life was. In 1894 cash was found to have gone missing from the First National Bank in Austin, where Porter had worked as a bank teller. When he was called back to Austin to stand trial, Porter fled to Honduras to avoid trial. Little is known about Porter’s stay in Central America. It is said, that he met one Al Jennings, and rambled in South America and Mexico on the proceeds of Jennings’s robbery. After hearing news that his wife was dying, he returned in 1897 to Austin. In 1897 he was convicted of embezzling money, although there has been much debate over his actual guilt. Porter entered in 1898 a penitentiary at Columbus, Ohio. All of this things helped O.Henry by being in his local color. They each played a significant part in his life and in his stories. O.Henry either wrote like a humorist like A.B. Longstreet and J.J. Hooper or he wrote with local color. Both ways you can tell that the characters had southern attitudes, manners, and speech. (Current-Garcia 4)

Another technique would be O.Henry’s ability to use allusions. An example of O.Henry’s artistry with words can be seen in his many literary allusions, especially toward Shakespearean plays and the ancient classics. (Current-Garcia 146) O.Henry’s “The Poet and the Peasant,” puts together a lot of literary devices. The story starts off first person narrative and follows a detailed description. At each turn of the story the irony gets further complicating. (Current-Garcia 152-153) This is just one example of how O.Henry uses many different literary devices. A writer said that in the many allusions to Shakespeare found in O.Henry’s stories “how shows a tendency to word-play or to an unexpected turn similar to that manifest of the plots of his stories.”(Current-Garcia 146)

The light touch of O.Henry “his mastery of the vernacular, his insight into the life of the disinherited, makes it needless for him to resort to such inventions.”(Forman 152) When O.Henry writes he has a touch that is unbelievable the way he makes everything fall together. Each line is unique in a way because he writes like he talks, but in some cases he is able to use academic terms in his writings. He just builds up a picture for us. Forman said “The piquant and picturesque phrasing, the dash of the slang. The genial and winning fancy seems to carry the most fantastic situations.”(Forman 152) This quote describes exactly what I mean he is able to paint a picture for us. His stories have the “harmony of tone so essential to the short story writer,” said Rollins. (Rollins 158) Even though O.Henry’s ridiculous use of modern slang, he still is a master of felicitous expressions and strange verbal flavors. (Current-Garcia 136) O.Henry had a “maltreatment of words.”

O.Henry’s stories were either based in Texas or in New York City. Both of these places he spent a significant amount of time in during his life. He was in Texas working in a drug story. Then he was put into jail and some how found his way to New York City. These places made the setting of his stories simple and easy because every one has heard of New York City. While in prison O. Henry started to write short stories to earn money to support his daughter Margaret. His first work, “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking” (1899), appeared in McClure’s Magazine. After doing three years of the five years sentence, Porter emerged from the prison in 1901 and changed his name to O. Henry. He moved to New York City in 1902 and from December 1903 to January 1906 he wrote a story a week for the New York World, also publishing in other magazines. Henry’s first collection, Cabbages and Kings appeared in 1904. The second, The Four Million, was published two years later and included his well-known stories “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Furnished Room”. The Trimmed Lamp (1907) included “The Last Leaf”.

After his death in 1920’s his rep dwindled and critics wonder how he was ever taken seriously “new” fiction gained much more respect in 20’s and 30’s went against moral standards, taboos and conventions of older generation nd reliance on plot structure. Critics consider all of O.Henry work jokes because he was humorous and he used slang he didn’t take it seriously. While other said it is fair to compare him woth anybody. He was just amazing like Henry James Forman said “No talent could be more original or more delightful. The combination of technical excellence with whimsical,sparkling wit, abundant humor and fertile invention is so rae that the reader is content without comparisons.” This is true on many levels about O.Henry the way in which he wrote so many stories was amazing. Towards the end of his life things started to fall out. O. Henry’s last years were shadowed by alcoholism, ill health, and financial problems. He married Sara Lindsay Coleman in 1907, but the marriage was not happy, and they separated a year later. O. Henry died of cirrhosis of the liver on June 5, 1910, in New York.

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