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Plot in The Best of O. Henry

Plot Examples in The Best of O. Henry:

The Furnished Room

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"“What kind of a lady was Miss Sprowls—in looks, I mean?”..."   (The Furnished Room)

The young man is afraid the girl he is searching for might have gotten married to this Mr. Mooney. That could explain why he has been having such a hard time finding her.

"the haunted room..."   (The Furnished Room)

Early in "The Furnished Room," O. Henry intimated that it could turn into a ghost story. Here he fulfills his promise by showing that the room is haunted by the ghost of Eloise Vashner. Later it will also be haunted by her lover after he commits suicide in the same way she did.

"“I rented out my third-floor-back this evening,” said Mrs. Purdy,..."   (The Furnished Room)

O. Henry's characteristic surprise ending will be delivered through the conversation of these two women in a little vignette. Surprise endings were not only O. Henry's trademark, but he typically presented them in the form of dialogue. For example, in his story "The Last Leaf," Sue will tell Johnsy in a separate little scene: "Didn't you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, it's Behrman's masterpiece—he painted it there the night that the last leaf fell.” And in O. Henry's famous story "The Gift of the Magi," Jim's arrival is mainly staged to have him deliver the surprise ending in dialogue form: “Dell,” said he, “let's put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

"said Mrs. McCool..."   (The Furnished Room)

O. Henry preferred to deliver important information at the end through dialogue. Mrs. Purdy has to have someone to talk to for this purpose. O. Henry therefore creates a Mrs. McCool who is a very similar landlady in a nearby building. They need a purpose for being together, so O. Henry establishes that they are in the habit of sharing a pail of beer in the evenings. The author says it was Mrs. McCools' turn to go and buy the pail that night, which establishes that they know each other well and that this is a custom. Through them we learn that the girl the young man had been seeking had committed suicide a week ago in the same room her lover had just rented, and where he is now in the process of committing suicide by the same means himself.

"the twelfth house whose bell he had rung..."   (The Furnished Room)

Here and throughout the story the young man displays a very strong motivation to find the girl he loves. This strong motivation creates dramatic interest, even when O. Henry is describing the old building and the furnished room in elaborate detail.

"Those solemn but sweet organ notes had set up a revolution in him. Tomorrow he would go into the roaring downtown district and find work...."   (The Cop and the Anthem)

"The Cop and the Anthem" has a characteristic "O. Henry" surprise ending. In order for the surprise to work effectively, the reader must be prepared for something different. This entire paragraph is intended to prepare the reader to expect Soapy to reform. He has made a definite decision to "find work." But the inspiration of the church anthem has made him lose his hold on reality. He has, in effect, allowed himself to stray back into the middle-class world where he doesn't belong. His fantasies have made him incautious. He doesn't notice the policeman silently approaching.

Soapy felt a hand laid on his arm. He looked quickly around into the broad face of a policeman. “What are you doin' here?” asked the officer. “Nothin',” said Soapy. “Then come along,” said the policeman.

"So long, officer..."   (After Twenty Years)

This shows that Bob hasn't the slightest suspicion that he has been talking to his old friend. He calls the policeman "officer." It also shows that Bob does not realize he has given away important information: that he will be standing there for a half-hour.

"“I should say not!” said the other. ..."   (After Twenty Years)

O. Henry had to explain why Jimmy arrived on time for the ten-o'clock appointment but would still have enough time to arrange to get Bob arrested. O. Henry does not want the reader to suspect that the cop might be Jimmy Wells. The reader thinks that the cop stops to talk to Bob because Bob looks suspicious standing inside a darkened doorway. Bob is only doing that because that is the appointed spot for the reunion, even though the restaurant was torn down five years ago. Bob can't wait anywhere else. He has nothing else to do because, after twenty years of absence, he is a stranger in town. Besides, he wants to light his cigar, and he has to remain in the doorway to smoke it because the weather outside the doorway is too wet.

"after I was twenty..."   (After Twenty Years)

The plainclothes officer has been primed with information by Jimmy. He has been told that Jimmy was twenty years old when he last saw Bob at "Big Joe" Brady's restaurant.

"trying doors as he went...."   (After Twenty Years)

Jimmy has to get back to the precinct house to find another officer to make the arrest. However, he can't seem to be in too much of a hurry, so he continues trying doors until he passes out of sight. This fools Bob and also fools the reader, who must believe this was just a beat cop who only stopped to check out a man who appeared to be loitering.

"Going to call time on him sharp?”..."   (After Twenty Years)

The policeman's identity is still unknown to the reader. Jimmy has decided to have Bob arrested by another officer. He needs to make sure that Bob will remain in the doorway for some little time. Jimmy has to get back to the precinct station, find someone else to make the arrest, and give that other officer time to get back to the doorway. The fact that Bob, whose identity is still unknown to the reader, has just lighted a cigar will help to keep him in the doorway because he can't smoke his cigar in the rain.

"grasping both the other's hands with his own. ..."   (After Twenty Years)

The plainclothesman is effectively placing Bob under arrest, preventing him from getting away if he should realize that this man is not his friend Jimmy Wells. When they walk off together, they will be walking "arm in arm," meaning that the plainclothesman still has Bob effectively in custody.

"along with coat collars turned high and pocketed hands..."   (After Twenty Years)

Since other pedestrians have their coat collars turned high, it will not look unusual for the plainclothes detective to be doing the same thing when he arrives twenty minutes later.

"smoked his cigar and waited..."   (After Twenty Years)

Bob, who has not yet been identified to the reader, is content to stand in the doorway and wait because it takes a long time to smoke a cigar and he can't smoke it in the rain.

"But I know Jimmy will meet me here if he's alive, for he always was the truest, staunchest old chap in the world...."   (After Twenty Years)

This is the kind of praise that makes it too hard for Jimmy Wells to arrest his old friend Bob personally and gives him the idea of having another officer make the arrest for him.

"“Did pretty well out West, didn't you?” asked the policeman...."   (After Twenty Years)

The policeman is given a cue to ask this leading question because the other man is showing off with his expensive watch and inviting such a question.

"Haven't you heard from your friend since you left?”..."   (After Twenty Years)

Since the policeman is in fact the other man's friend, he ought to know the answer to his question. It may have been that Jimmy Wells tried writing letters to his friend in the West for a few years but never got an answer. The author establishes that "Silky" Bob would have no way of knowing that Jimmy Wells had joined the New York police force. Otherwise, Bob might surmise that the policeman he was talking to was his old friend and not a beat cop checking him out.

"but chilly gusts of wind with a taste of rain in them had well nigh depeopled the streets...."   (After Twenty Years)

This description of the cold and wet weather will serve at least two purposes. It will explain why "Silky" Bob is standing deep inside the doorway-entrance, and it will explain why the plainclothes detective who ultimately arrests Bob will be able to conceal part of his face by wearing an overcoat with the collar turned up.

"then a tall man in a long overcoat,..."   (After Twenty Years)

The author emphasizes that the plainclothes man is bigger than Bob. This makes it less likely that Bob could make an escape. O. Henry does something similar in "A Retrieved Reformation." He emphasizes that the detective Ben Price is a "big man." This insure that Jimmy Valentine would have a hard time trying to escape being arrested.

"was beginning to outline the history of his career..."   (After Twenty Years)

Bob is unwittingly giving the arresting officer, who has not yet revealed his identify, information that can be used against him by the Chicago police.

"gazed fondly at the finest set of burglar's tools in the East. ..."   (A Retrieved Reformation)

This set of burglar's tools will identify and characterize Jimmy Valentine as a professional burglar in spite of the fact that he has denied his profession to the warden and soon deny it to Mike Dolan.

  • The highly specialized tools will enable him to open the bank safe in order to rescue the little girl accidentally trapped inside.
  • The set of tools will be unquestionable incriminating evidence against him when the master detective Ben Price arrives on the scene at the bank.

This explains why O. Henry spends an entire paragraph describing the burglar tools.

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