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What are the themes of the short story "The Furnished Room" by O. Henry?

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darkslayor | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 26, 2011 at 8:34 AM via web

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What are the themes of the short story "The Furnished Room" by O. Henry?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:16 PM (Answer #1)

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“The Furnished Room” by O. Henry tells the story of an unnamed man’s desperate search to find a lost love. Searching the city for five months has left him fatigued and haggard. All of his efforts brought only negative answers to his inquiries.

Summary

When the man rents a room in a boarding house, the housekeeper does not tell him the truth about the previous boarders in his room. The man gives the housekeeper a description of the missing young woman which included that she was pretty with one distinguishing feature: a brown mole growing by her left eyebrow.

As he looks around the room, it is obvious that the renters before had been female. A perfume fragrance suddenly brings the man to his feet.  It is his lady’s perfume. She has been in this room. He begins to talk to her: “Yes, dear!”

The housekeeper repeats what she told him before that it was not his lady friend. When he returns to the room, her fragrance is gone. He tears up the sheets and places the strips around the window.  He turns on the gas and lies down on the bed waiting to die.

In a conversation between the housekeepers, the man’s housekeeper admits that she did not tell him the truth about the last tenant.  It might have kept him from renting the room.  The last renter had committed suicide.  She was pretty except for a mole by her left eyebrow. 

Theme

Hopelessness

After the man has searched all over the town for five months, he gives up his hope. Apparently, he was obsessed with this girl and did not want to live without her.  He faced the large city looking for one lost girl with nothing but negative results.

“The ebbing of his hope drained his faith.  He sat staring at the yellow, singing gaslight.  Soon he walks to the bed…he drove [the torn sheets] in every crevice around the window…turned on the gas and laid himself gratefully upon the bed.

When he smells her fragrance and was sure that she had been in the room, the denial of the housekeeper pushes him over the edge.  He feels that the girl is gone forever.  Although he does not know it, he is right. She committed suicide in the same bed in which he is going to die. The housekeeper took all of his hope away when she lied to him.

Man must have hope to live.  Without hope, nothing will ever get better.

Isolation and loneliness

The young man feels as though he is facing the world alone.  He is searching for one girl in a city of thousands of girls. 

The room he rents seems to be monstrous in its chipped furniture, distorted couch, and chipped fireplace mantel. “A hut that is our own we can sweep and adorn and cherish.” This is not his room, and he has nothing to show for his life.  He searches the room to find anything that his lost love might have left behind. Like the many other times, he finds nothing.

His isolation from the rest of the world in this terrible place without hope of finding his girl is a life not worth living.

Alone, depressed, isolated, and lonely—the young man no longer wants to fight. He gives up his life.

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