Analysis Of O’henry’s Short Stories: The Gift Of Magi, Last Leaf

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer


Stories play an important role in our life, they motivate us to reason, recognize to discover where we can relate it with us in our lives. “The short story in America has for almost two centuries held a prominent even pre-eminent place in the American literary tradition. For the Americans the short story had become a national art form” (Scofield; 2006). As a modern American master of short stories, O`Henry is universally well-known all over the world. He succeeds in presenting the social life of America in the 20th century in most his short stories. He strongly represents sharp criticism and satire towards the government, the American state authors, economic and social system in the society. “The Gift of the Magi” attempts to expose the social criticism in the story by analyzing the plots and characteristics. It aims to unmask the corruption of the state apparatus and the miserable life of the low class, so that it can help readers to acquire better knowledge of that society in America and the failures in the development of the capitalism and the life conditions of the poor people caused by failures. Struggle, rejections and miseries shaded Henry`s life throughout, but his determination and hard work affected William O` Henry to those peaks where, he has a standing of his own, in the world of literary legends of his time. One of his masterpieces stories is “Last Leaf”. It represents the deep association of emotions and human mind, where joy and sorry are combined with such a extraordinary way that forces us to relook into the work of famous artistry by the author.


William Sydney Porter, as a known O` Henry, was born in 1862 in North Carolina, America. He lost his mother at the age of three. Due to this, his life began very early. He was one of the widely read American short narrative writer, his pen had a strong voice to demonstrate romance, tragedy and miseries of life. He is not only American writers but also the writer of the Globe. His stories always remain the focus on critic`s comments. Among those critics, nobody attaches their attention to the different types of love stories and the unique characteristics of each type of love stories. The former critics always focuses their attentions on the literary work itself, such as the writing skill, structure, plot, characters, etc. neglecting the characteristics reflected through these short stories. The time of O` Henry is just the transitional period of America from capitalism to imperialism, during which American economy enjoys a rapid growth.

There are a number of stories about O` Henry that have been passed along almost beauty from study to study, always taken at face value but never investigated. Some of these stories play an important role in the legend that build up around O` Henry in the years following his death.

His short stories can be categorized into several types, especially, love stories, robber stories etc. If these types of short stories are compared to the beautiful diamonds in a crown, love stories are definitely the brightest one.

It may be that some of these questions about O` Henry`s career can never be answered conclusively. In that respect, they would resemble the many questions about his activities, which remain a source of assumptions.

Last Leaf

The story “Last Leaf” revolves around this Washington Square Street, where on the top of the building with three floors lived two close friends, who met each other and on the very first meeting found a close resemblance in taste, liking, choices and nature were “Sue” and “Johnsy”. Both of them were painting who had lots of aspirations and want to create a name in the years to come through their hands of paintings. Sue is caring and strong headed girl and supports Johnsy to fight her illness whereas Johnsy is week, sentimental and shown as a feeble character. There is another very important character is the story of the Doctor, who is very busy and professional. Inspirations play a great role in our life and if there is a good support at the time of need one can easily chase. O` Henry has beautifully tried to sketch such a great connection of “life&death” in such a fabulous way that itself talks about the artistry work of a legend. The story also highlights the passion of an artist when the fire of his heart stimulates him to deliver what he was waiting since ages. The shades of life have been beautifully narrated by O` Henry in the short story “Last Leaf”. The story throughout holds its readers and has created a climax till the end and throughout the story O` Henry has spread his artistry outstanding in waving a fabulous string that connects all the characters together and the emotional sequence of hope and despair, care and concern, role and responsibilities, is beautifully illustrated in Sue.

Four Million

The title of O` Henry breakthrough book, the 1906 collection The Four Million itself became a trademark of sorts. For one thing, it let readers know what kind of collection a new O` Henry book was. In the years of his peak fame following the Four Million O` Henry published two collections a year, of various kinds: stories of the West, stories about confidence men and criminals and stories set in the South and the other regions, as well as additional stories set in New York City. Even during his lifetime, some of O` Henry`s most popular New York short stories were scattered throughout non-New York books. Conversely, O` Henry`s most famous Southern story. As Langford observes, “All of O` Henry collections had been assembled somewhat haphazardly”. It is clear that O` Henry had the material to assemble another strong New York collection had he wanted to. The Four Million trademark was also a sign of quality since O` Henry`s New York stories were widely considered to be his best. Another connotation of the Four Million trademark had to do with a thematic element of all the New York stories.

The Gift of the Magi

Among all of the love stories, pure love stories are the best and most well-known. People throughout the world read the Gift of the Magi the masterpieces of Henry`s pure love stories. In some ways this story serves as a way of irony but also indicates that the sacrifices that people are willing to make for those whom and Jim are a poor young couple who merely own to valuable positions Della`s long, beautiful hair and Jim`s gold watch that used to belong to his father. This is a typical pure love story of O` Henry. Despite the young couple`s poor economic situation, they are rich in the spiritual world since both of them are willing to sacrifice their treasures for the happiness of their lover. People who read the short story are touched by their pure and selfless love. While the entire world is becoming realistic and materialistic, still there is simple and true love remaining in the young poor couple. These indicate that from the last phase of 19th century to the initial stage of the 20th century, many people live a penniless life, they were happier, however, than those wealthy people for they possessed the most valuable fortune in the world.

On the other hand, O` Henry love stories are greatly influenced by his own love experience that could be the most romantic and appealing. His wife Athol Estes is regarded as the original model of Della in the Gift of the Magi. Athol Estes is the symbol of pure love and service for love. She dedicates her entire life to O` Henry`s writing career.

Transients in Arcadia

In the short story of Transients in Arcadia, there are two main characters, Madame Beaumont and Mr.Harold. In this story both of the characters play an important role. They are poor, but they want to be rich and live the way rich people do. They enjoy the feeling of being rich people and being admired by others. So they save money to live as the rich for a few days to satisfy their money is spent out. They fell in love with the premise they believe each other. During the period from the last phases the 19th century to the 20th century, people`s fortune structure and social status undergoes great changes. Many poor people became wealthy by grasping a lucky opportunity. They get not only money in a moment but also remarkable social status. Moreover, these people`s success arouses others` complicated feelings. Some admire them, some envy them, some hate them. According to some psychologists, when a society experience a through change, it would be accompanied with a revolution of the people`s social notion. There is a certain relation between economic revolution and spiritual revolution. This is a vivid characteristic of American society at that time.


The time that O` Henry experiences cover from the last phases of 19th century and 20th century which is a special period in American history. During this period the first industrial revolution took place and American society experienced a profound and through reformation. A large number of wealthy people appeared overnight and became richer and richer. On the contrary to, the flourishing surface, poor people who lived in the low position of society became much poorer. The whole society experienced great changes with all kinds of contradictions occurring everyday. This period is also a period of rapid development of economy in American history. The US became one of the leading forces of the world during this period. Therefore, to analyze the characteristics of this special period is of great importance, which would be beneficial for people to have a better understanding of American culture of that period and even nowadays.

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