After Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe, William Sydney Porter (known as O Henry) is the most read author in the world and bears the title of « master of the short story ». He has been called many things. Some people have called him the twentieth-century Balzak. Some have called him the American Maupassant because of his so well made surprising endings.
The short story is the one fundamental and self-contained genre in American prose fiction, and the stories of O. Henry certainly made their appearance in consequence of the prolonged and incessant cultivation of the genre
The real O. Henry is found in an irony pervading all his stories, in a keen feeling for form and traditions. Americans cannot help wanting to prove a resemblance in outlook between Him and Shakespeare–it is their way of expressing “national pride.”
So, who is that William Sydney Porter?
William Sydney Porter was born on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro, North Carolina. He grew up in the post-Civil War depression that gripped the southern states for years following the close of that epic and tragic internecine struggle.
His Grandmother was given the task of raising him and a younger sibling after the death of his mother when three-years old child and his father’s addiction to alcohol. By age nineteen, he had been an avid reader as she was also responsable for their education. He had read a wide variety of books and articles that would later have a direct impact on his literary work.
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He moved to Texas in 1984 where he got married and obtained a job as a teller at one of the local banks. When faced with charges of bank embezzelement he fled to New Orleans and then To Honduras. Little is known of his activities there, even though his experiences in Honduras would later be incorporated into some of his stories.
He returned to the states when word came that his wife was losing her battle with tuberculosis. On his return, he was convicted to bank fraud and then sentenced to three years in an Ohio penetentiary, where he began writing short stories.
Embarassed to be in jail, he hid this fact from everyone, even his own daughter, by adopting the alias O.Henry.
For quite a few years O.Henry led a happy life. Then in his early forties, despite the success of his stories and his second marriage, he slipped into alcoholism and depression. In 1910, he died unhappy and poor with less than a dollar to his name.
One of the most significant short stories he had written, and which I am going to deal with in my present essay is “The Cop and the Anthem”.
William Sidney Porter, a realist. Many of his stories tell about the lives of poor people in New York, as well as in other place. (His stories are about poor people; stories are short; style is clear; and he has a keen observation.) The Cop and the Anthem, indicates that he considered all the tramps are worth writing about and look for a solution to their problems of homeless and starvation. His stories are usually short, and the plots are exceedingly clear and interesting, humor abounds, and the end is always surprising. Often there are two endings: first an unexpected ending, then another, which is quite different one and a still better surprise.
The story commences with a tramp, Soapy was his name, who tries in vain to be arrested and to live then in a wealthy condition there in gaol, where he can eat some good food have a bed in which he falls on the spot fast asleep. He tries so many times to achieve his goal to be imprisoned: He goes, as a first time, to a luxurious restaurant but as he was in a miserable dress with a torn shoes; he was kicked off quickly from the place. As a second time, he goes then to a for-any-one restaurant, he has been welcomed there and he ordered as many dishes as possible to eat. Once the waiter comes to give him the bill, the tramp shows him that he has no money on him and thus he has been just bitten and then thrown out. He tries to steal a man’s umbrella, but when he does, the man gets scared and lets him take it because the man just found it earlier that day. Also, Soapy tries to act drunk on the sidewalk. Then when the police officers came, they said that they had orders to leave these kinds of guys be, because they are no harm to the public.
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There are more, but I will let you find them and I don’t want to give the story away to you. At last, while walking around a church he hears an anthem. He unconsciously comes in there and stays for a while to listen more carefully to that melody. In the meanwhile, Soapy decides to change for the better. Suddenly, a cop comes to him and arrests him for loitering. The next day, the Judge sentenced him to the Island.
O. Henry’s stories have a variety of settings, but most of them are laid in either New York City or Texas. The “Cop and the Anthem” has the perfect setting for the story. It took place in New York, in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Soapy originally lived on a bench in Madison Square. It was autumn and the leaves were falling. Soapy realized that winter was coming and he needed to plan something. He can’t stay on the park bench, while its snowing, all winter. He’ll freeze, get sick, and maybe even get frostbite. Soapy then figured out that he wanted to go to “The Island”, a nickname he used to call a prison in New York. He tryed to do bad things to get arrested, so he could have food and be warm for the winter season. That was a great setting for such story.
Coincidence vs Fate, as I have noticed, are the most prominent themes O.Henry has dealt with in this story. Besides, the common Porter’s trademark ones, which are his reversal of the narrative and his reversal of his character’ nature. Along the story, we see that the events are interelated to eacher with coincidence and at the end there is what we call a surprise twist.
When Soapy decides to steal the man’s umbrella, it was a coincidence when that man has found the umbrella that morning. So, he has not been arrested. Also, the fact that the policeman left him alone as they have been ordered not to jail those drunkards when he decides to play the role of a drunk. All what has happened to Soapy was a simple coincidence. But, Fate comes to us showing us that what has been foreseen should be carried out perpetually; and we are slave to our Fate. We find this in this story when the tramp after decideing to live better in a normal way gets arrested for a simple crime, which I do completely not Consider it a crime. We cannot escape from our destiney. That’s what happened to the main character of the story.
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Porter’s characters include shopgirls and millionaires, policemen and burglars, cowboys and tramps, confidence men and southern gentlemen, and other assorted types. In “The Cop and the Anthem” a man by the name of Soapy is the main character. He is a homeless man that lives on bench in Madison Square, New York City. Since winter is coming, he is trying to go to jail to have a warm place to pass the cold nights. Soapy tries to get arrested by eating at a restaurant and not having enough money to pay for the meal. Unfortunately for Soapy, the waiters just throw him out, not send him to jail. After many attempts to get arrested Soapy gets very angry and somewhat confused. He doesn’t understand why he can’t get taken into custody. Soapy is a clean-shaven man who wears a decent coat, frayed trousers and a neat, black ready-tied four-in-hand, which he got from a lady missionary on Thanksgiving Day. Although Soapy got these clothes from a charity, he is too proud to get anything else from them. Soapy says that jail is more benign than philanthropy. He thinks that although charities might not make you pay for services in coin, they always ask something of you. For example, after receiving some type of benefit, a charity might ask you to join that religion or anything else that Soapy feels is the humiliation of the spirit. Soapy is a very proud man that sticks to his beliefs.
The literary device allusion is a reference to a well-known person, place, or work of art. It is used to emphasize something. In “The Cop and the Anthem” allusion is used. Soapy has to become a Committee of Ways and Means. The Committee of Ways and Means is a part of the government that makes decisions on matters such as the how the budget is spent. Therefore, Soapy has to become a Committee of Ways and Means because he has to decide where to spend the winter. In this O. Henry story the literary device irony is utilized. Irony is an amusing or surprising contradiction. It is a difference between what is expected and what ends up taking place. In “The Cop and the Anthem” Soapy tries to get arrested by taking a silk umbrella from a man. However, the man just thought Soapy was its rightful owner because he had found it earlier. Also, when Soapy finally decides to get a job and become a decent man when he gets arrested. Also, O. Henry’s stories reflect his life. As you can see irony can be very humorous.
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O Henry had many qualities that made him a good writer. He focused his eyes on an immense variety of objects. He was tirelessly interested in people and could make people tirelesly interesting. He was at his best a sublime humorist, and was blessed with a pecular faculty of being able to impress the flavour of himself on a page. And today, you will still find him held in affection by a great many people who will not bear a word against his method and its results.
His manner is usually that of the garrulous taleteller, and his style is almost invariably breezy, flippant, and slangy, with puns, malapropisms, and big words used for humorous effect.
O.Henry used to use a simple narrative and descriptive language. He usually utilized simple words so that the common Americans could easily grasp.
And as it is clearly seen when reading one of his short stories in general and in particular “The Cop and the Anthem” which my report is based on, we find a short humourous description of characters and the events as not to take much time in telling the story to the readers.
Here, in the present story, we notice that the story revolves around one character. This is to focus more specicifically on only one person as to give him all the attentions he deserves. The main character would then reprent a group of people, for instance, Soapy behalfs the of-no-fixed-abode community in New York.
The writer often uses the colloquial language as to show the culture of the New York or Texas societies, and here, he shows the way the homeless people in New York City do think of for the prison. As we can obviously see, Soapy named the jail “Island” as though it is the real shelter to the true confort and warm and also the source of energy where he can eat and drink.
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During his lifetime, O. Henry worked in a cigar store. In “The Cop and the Anthem” Soapy walks into a cigar store and takes the man’s umbrella. As you can see, many parts of his stories are influenced by his life.
Eugene Current-Garcia, in his book “O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)”, spoke about this American author as a minor Classic writer who occupied a permanent, unique spot in the American literature. He said:
“ To condemn O. Henry’s stories in toto for not being realistic and serious, for depending too heavily on coincidence, and for playing to the gallery is an evasion of the critic’s responsibility–unless it can be shown that these characteristics invariably result in badly written stories. This, O. Henry’s severest critics have seldom been willing to do. His intention rather than his achievement has been the object of their censure, and the result is that O. Henry criticism…has swung from the one extreme of thoughtless adulation to the opposite one of hasty and ill-considered dismissal, based too cavalierly upon the examination of individual stories…. What needs to be done, on the contrary, is to recognize first…that O. Henry is a minor classic who occupies a permanent, unique spot in American literature; and, second, to seek to understand his uniqueness in the light of his total accomplishment…. One way to account for this mysterious afflatus is to recognize that at the core of O. Henry’s being lies an element of surprise or wonder, as though everything his eye lighted on were sufficient cause for startled pleasure…. The most obvious technical manifestation of O. Henry’s delight in the unexpected is, of course, in his famous surprise endings; for scarcely a single story among his three hundred fails to meet his specifications for a conclusion other than the one the reader is apparently being prepared for” (1)
Another critic, Arthur Voss, spoke about the theory of Short Story in the eyes of O.Henry as a mixture of realistic setting with realistic characters and humourous effects that lead to an unexpected ending.
“ His manner is usually that of the garrulous taleteller, and his style is almost invariably breezy, flippant, and slangy, with puns, malapropisms, and big words used for humorous effect. His stories are liberally sprinkled with asides in which he addresses the reader in a familiar and chatty tone. Literary allusions, often made facetiously, are common, and there are many references to other writers…. Although he usually used stock story formulas, O. Henry had an undoubted gift for devising ingenious variations on them. Coincidence figures largely in his stories, and they often have a surprise twist, or “snapper,” as O. Henry called it. Unabashed sentiment and the broadest kind of comedy and burlesque are other conspicuous ingredients. In addition, O. Henry usually made his contrived stories illustrate some more or less serious theme.” (2)
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“ Sometimes O. Henry was quiet and serious, and once he said… “Poverty is so terrible and so common, we should all do more than we do–much more–to relieve it.” There can be no doubt about his sincere sympathy for those who needed help, but were unable to help themselves. Stories like “Brickdust Row” and “An Unfinished Story” caused Theodore Roosevelt to say, “It was O. Henry who started me on my campaign for office girls.” Because of this interest in the unfortunate, especially the victims of environment, the stories of O. Henry take on sociological import. He presented the shopgirl, the derelict, and the woman of the street, the gangster, against the background that produced them. He knew that environment could cause tragedy, and he realized the injustice of a system which would permit an employer to pay a clerk only six dollars a week….”The Cop and the Anthem” depicts the damaging effects on the lives of those whose surroundings are inadequate and squalid.”(3)
O. Henry writes in many different ways. He wrote all short stories throughout his life and columns in papers and magazines. In his stories, he put alot of information about jails and policemen. Possibly this having something to do with his troubled life? O. Henry also used alot of literary devices such as irony, in almost all of his stories. He also used alot of allusion, similies, and metaphors. O. Henry did alot during his author career after dying at the young age of 49.
Many praise him by saying he is known as being the best short story author ever existed. This is because of his characters and his endings. His stories appeal to all because of his generic yet easy to relate to characters. Pepole could easily see what the characters were about.
Despite his problems at his banking job and the loss of his first wife, he managed to turn his life around and become a very successful writer. Some critics loved him while others disapproved of him saying that his stories were nonsense. But, on the contrary, they were all stories about poor people living in New York or Texas that were vagabonds or just having no chance in living a normal life. All his stories were characterised only socially. With his distinct twist endings (surprising) and familiar characters O.Henry had an instantly recognizable style that had never been seen before.
While he had done some writing before, it was during his three-year incarceration in the Columbus, Ohio Penitentiary for fraud that he began to write seriously.
American writers wrote, « The stories usually have a comic tone, to be sure, but distinctly uncomic possibilities often exist just at the fringes.» Although Porter was widely popular in his own time, today his reputation has suffered. Dictionary of Literary Biography : Volume 78, said : « Perhaps the reputation of no other American writer has undergone a more rapid and drastic reversal than that of William Sydney Porter. » It also says that while « Porter commanded a readership of millions » he now is not as interesting to readers as he is to critics in today’s time. But although he may have the popularity that he had in the 1900’s, his works are still considered literary classics are still read worldwide.