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Unique Writing Style Of William Porter

William Sidney Porter was born September 11, 1862 in North Carolina, where he spent most of his childhood. He learned to love books when he was very young. Later on in his teenage years he became a licensed pharmacist at his uncles pharmacy. At the age of twenty, Porter went to Texas because of health reasons. There he lived and worked on a sheep ranch and lived with a family who know most of the porters in North Carolina. “At this ranch Porter gained a knowledge for ranch life that he later used in many of his short stories.”(Lone Star Junction) “In 1884, Porter moved to Austin. He roomed in the home of the Joseph Harrell family and held several jobs. It was during this time that Porter first used his pen name, O. Henry, said to be derived from his frequent calling of “Oh, ‘Henry’” the family cat.”(Lone Star Junction) When O. Henry was 36 his life hit an all time low, he was accused of stealing money for the national bank and convicted. He was sentenced for 5 years in prison in an Ohio Prison. After these 5 years O. Henry restarted his life and just in a short time of 3 years he wrote over a dozen short stories. From here he moved to New York and became a worldwide known writer. By the time of his death in 1910 he had published over 300 stories.(Draper) Porter died on June 5, 1910 in New York City at the age of forty seven. An alcoholic, he died virtually penniless.

In O. Henrys life he did not receive many awards but the O. Henry Award was created and named after him. This award is awarded to authors since 1919 to short stories of merit. (

O. Henry is well known for his unique writing style, and also “where many of the elements for which O. Henry is known including poor working class characters, using a humorous tone and realistic detail. What makes O. Henry rise above all other authors if what his most noted for which his use of his surprisingly twisted endings. One Critic said “his writing style shows that O. Henry seems to have thought of his fellow human beings as insects, good for nothing of louts, but despise them, he never does, he’s a philosopher and thoughtless from start to finish.”(Bryfonski). The purpose of this paper is to discuss O. Henrys style, themes, and use surprise endings in his book The Gift of the Magi and other short stories.

O. Henry like many other short story writers pick a type of style write their stoires. Most of O.Henry’s stories are set in his contemporary present, the early years of the 20th century and deal with ordinary people: clerks, policemen, waitresses.(Portitude) The Settings of O. Henrys storiesare often grouped into 5 catagories: the American south, the west, central America, prison, and New York.(Wilson) O. Henrys style is unlike most Authors which makes his stories so good.

In many of O. Henrys stories he uses literary devices in The Gift of the Magi that are also used in many of his other stories. The first of these is he becomes the narrator that has a personality almost like the narrator in the play Our Town by William Faulkner. In the Gift of the Magi the story is told in a way where the narrater, talks to his readers by saying You. It is almost as if the narrator is an additional character that is heard, but never seen, engaging the reader as a friend and sharing his insights into the Youngs’ situation. Another writer who often uses this technique, sometimes called authorial intrusion, is Charles Dickens. (

The next type of literary device that O. Henry uses is the many allusions to the bible that he uses throughout most of his stories. An example of one is used in The Gift of The Magi.

“Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Delia would have let her hair hang out of the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.” (quotation from the Book)

In this allusion like many of the others gives a few things to the reader. First of all it is kind of funny, second itgives backround information to the reader on how important Delia hair and Jims watch are, and lastly opens up the story so that the ending will fall right in to place.(

Like the way O. Henry uses his Literary devices he does the same thing with his themes by uses the same few over and over. O. Henry uses three main themes throughout all of his works and they are Love, Sacrifice for others, and wealth. Love is the biggest theme of all in the Gift of the Magi. It is the story of a poor, young couple whose love for each other is the most important thing in their lives. In the story O. Henry shows there love by showing the characters sell most valuable possessions to find Christmas gifts for each other. Their love seems to be so strong.

The next theme O. Henry uses in The Gift of the Magi is the theme of sacrifice.” “We watch Della go through the process of deciding to make the sacrifice and going through with it, only to discover that her husband has made the same sacrifice. The story’s narrator assures us that in their willingness to give up all they have, they have proven themselves the wisest of all gift-givers. It might remain unclear, though, exactly what their sacrifice has accomplished, or how it has affected them.”(Karr)

The third and final theme that is used in The Gift of the Magi as well as most of his other stories is the theme of wealth. This story shows what it really means for something to be valuable. It makes the reader think about is something’s value how much money it is worth? Or are other things more valuable than money? The main characters are very poor which is showed by the quote

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. (O.Henry)

Even though they are poor the gifts that they give to each other make themselves feel wealthy

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