‘‘Mammon and the Archer,’’ by William Sydney Porter—better known by the pseudonym of O. Henry—was first published in the New York World and later published in O. Henry’s The Four Million in 1906. The title of the collection and the short stories themselves were a response to Ward McAllister’s 1892 comment that there are only about four hundred people in New York City, referring only to those whom McAllister thought were of importance. O. Henry’s collection, however, concerns the total population of New York City at the time, around four million, not just the aristocratic few. In fact, ‘‘Mammon and the Archer,’’ which is considered to be one of O. Henry’s best stories, depicts a rich entrepreneur, Anthony Rockwall, who does not belong to this aristocratic four hundred but whose son is trying to marry one of the aristocratic daughters. Anthony believes that money can buy everything and tries to prove it to himself by using his money to stage an elaborate event that helps his son win his bride.
Critics initially praised O. Henry for his stories, many of which featured surprise endings like the one in ‘‘Mammon and the Archer.’’ O. Henry’s New York stories introduced new character types that helped to shape the image and perceptions of America both at home and abroad. However, while O. Henry’s acclaim with popular readers has remained consistent since his death in 1910, many critics have since found fault with O. Henry’s techniques, including his formerly praised surprise endings and plot constructions. To this day, O. Henry’s literary reputation is in question, although his name still adorns one of the most prestigious short-story contests in the United States: the O. Henry Awards. A current copy of ‘‘Mammon and the Archer’’ can be found in Tales of O. Henry: Sixty-Two Stories, which was published by Barnes & Noble Books in 1993.