When people try to describe O. Henry’s writing style, they always use the term “smile with tears,” which implies his twisted way of thoughts and endings about every story. These stories usually end in a humorous but also cruel kind of way. It’s absolutely useful to elevate the artistic thought in writing a thoughtful story.
To better understand the brilliant plots of his twisted endings let us begin with one of his most famous stories, The Cop and the Anthem1. In this story, the main character was trying to find shelter for the coming winter by getting himself thrown into prison. After all his attempts ended in futility, he found himself moved by the anthem of the church. Hearing this he decided to make a new man
of himself by conquering the evil that had taken possession of him. But not until the anthem was finished, this time he was ‘hopefully’ arrested for doing nothing. When Soapy had realized how foolish he was and had decided to live a new life, his previous activities deprived him of the right. The ending makes us think about society and its treatment of Soapy. What made the story so successful was the ending. The sudden turn of events not only gives readers a sudden fall, but also forces us to think about our own lives.
In order to learn more about O. Henry
’s articles, we should pay some particular attention to what happened in his life and why he wrote stories such as The Cop and the Anthem. O. Henry, whose given name is William Sydney Porter, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. When William was three, his mother died, and he was raised by his paternal grandmother and aunt. William was an avid reader, but at the age of fifteen he left school, and then worked in a drug store. He moved to Houston, where he had a number of jobs, including one as a bank clerk. In 1884 he started a humorous weekly publication called The Rolling Stone. When the paper failed, he joined the Houston Post as a reporter and columnist. In 1897 he was convicted of embezzling money, although there has been much debate over his actual guilt. In 1898 he entered a penitentiary at Columbus, Ohio.
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.2 After serving three years of his five year 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, while also publishing in other magazines.
Having dropped out of school, dealing with the loss of his wife, and being subjected to prison life, O. Henry was totally aware of the cruelty of being a “small potato” in society. His experience shows the majority people he met in daily life were those from the lower class of the society such as clerks, policemen, and waitresses. This helped him to get involved with the majority of the working class who are the real people who are face various kinds of stress every day. However, surprisingly, this is also where true love appears.
In His most famous story, The Gift of the Magi3 he spins the tale of a young couple who are short of money but desperately want to buy each other Christmas gifts. The husband sells his only favorite watch to buy a set of combs for his wife, while she uses the money from selling her beautiful hair to buy him a pocket chain. The author arranges the entire plot just to make readers anticipate the excitement of the outcome. From the beginning, the readers keep guessing what the couple will buy for each other, and the irony of their gifts is the greatest suspense the author puts into this story. Finally the author gives the answer to the readers question in the ending:
“Here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi. ”
The author’s answer was that their will be none of the gift in the world more valuable than love. Love is supreme, and it’s beyond all the other material objects in this world. Only by love can we be connected tightly and faithfully. This is the theme of the story.
It is not surprising that The Gift of the Magi still enjoys such widespread fame, for in this trite little tale of mutual self-sacrifice between husband and wife. Unselfish love shared, regardless of the attendant difficulties or distractions--this is the idea repeatedly implied as a criterion in his fictional treatment of domestic affairs. If such love is present, life can be a great adventure transcending all drabness; if it is absent, nothing else can take its place.
Mr. Henry found his love in the lower class of society which kept me wondering, “Where can we find the true love in our life?” Perhaps love is just like a story with a twisted ending; it might seem normal or even a bit sad from the outside, but to the people who are in the story, and those who are aware of the true meaning of love, happiness will remain in their heart for a long time.
Even though O. Henry made some mistakes during his life, most people will still remember him as a prolific and prominent American short-story writer; a master of surprise endings. We are not allowed to judge a person only by his experiences; moreover, readers can always tell an author’s personality through his words. O. Henry has always been a favorite in American literature for his acute perspective of the creatures living in society, and his peculiar writing style
of the twisted ending. Smile with tears and laugh with touched heart--what more can we ask from life’s stories?