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Could 3 short stories of O. Henry--"The Gift of the Magi,""The Last Leaf," "The Cop and...

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kathi1011 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 21, 2010 at 12:31 AM via web

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Could 3 short stories of O. Henry--"The Gift of the Magi,""The Last Leaf," "The Cop and the Anthem"-- be set in a city other than NYC?

I have to find out if these three stories are typical for local color.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 21, 2010 at 12:57 AM (Answer #1)

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[Since my response, that I tried to post was just bumped off somehow, I will try to reproduce it here, and hopefully, it will not be too late.]

With O. Henry's setting being the turn of the twentieth century, there may be only one other city that could be the setting for these three stories--Chicago, Illinois.  While Chicago at this time lacked the sophistication of New York and the bohemian life of Greenwich Village, there is documentation that artists did congregate in parts of Chicago and the Midwest, though not to the extent that they did in Greenwich Village where "The Last Leaf" is set.  For, in his U.S.A. Trilogy (published in 1919), John Dos Passos writes of two women who were aspiring artists.  Certainly, for the story "The Cop and the Anthem" Chicago was urbanized enough to have beat policemen who would encounter a character such as Soapy, and history records the city's element of criminality at the time to substantiate the existence of Bob and Jimmy in "After Twenty Years."  Of course, Chicago has a similar climate to that of New York City, so the brutal cold of "The Last Leaf" would be realistic.

Nevertheless, although the setting of Chicago has definite verisimilitude, since O. Henry was very familiar with New York, and since people of his time would perceive New York as much more of a true city than Chicago, which still was thought of in terms of its stockyards and as part of a state that was not of the original colonies, it does seem that the setting of New York is more appropriate.

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lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted October 21, 2010 at 12:49 AM (Answer #2)

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It is hard to imagine these classic short stories being set in any city other than New York City. New York City is like no other - it is huge, overwhelming and is really five cities within a city (the 5 boroughs). The artist colony in "The Last Leaf" could be set in another city where there is a similar artist colony, like San Franciso, but then the weather would not work - it has to be cold, rainy, and dreary. So, it could be set in Seattle, but Seattle is not cold enough to produce an out-of-control pneumonia. "The Gift of the Magi" could be set in another large city, as could "The Cop and the Anthem" but again, for the same reasons as "The Last Leaf" the local color touches would have to be changed and made applicable to the city in which the stories were set, and this I cannot imagine.

I am biased, however, since I am from New York, so perhaps other teachers would have other opinions. My view is not to mess with perfection. I don't think O. Henry would approve of changing the settings.

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