What is the conflict in "The Furnished Room" by O. Henry?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Usually in fictional narratives, there are internal and external conflicts, and O. Henry's stories are no exception as he constructs his tales on the basis of some contradiction or incongruity. In "The Furnished Room," O. Henry presents the dangerous aspect of New York in Dickensian fashion: A seedier side of life in a big city that is uncaring and dangerous, luring the innocent with false promise.

  • External conflict: Urban dangers vs. Individual

Lured by glamorous Broadway and its dazzling opportunities, Miss Eloise Vashner seeks fame and fortune there. But her abandoning of him leads a melancholic young man to seek his love. After searching in the lower West Side, he enters the twelfth crumbling red mansion he has passed and takes a room. There he is haunted by the sweet fragrance of Eloise's perfume, although the landlady has told him the young lady was never a resident.

It came as upon a single buffet of wind with such sureness and fragrance and emphasis that it almost seemed a living visitant.

The young man cries out, "Yes, dear." But, his efforts prove futile. Coupled with this distressing experience, the young man loses hope of finding Eloise in an impersonal, dingy, "dead" and tawdry room that possesses only "ignoble small records of may a peripatetic tenant." In an ironic twist of fate, the young man, like his lover, becomes a victim to such a large,uncaring city peopled with the likes of the callous landlady as he commits suicide in the same bed in which she has died.

  • Internal conflict: Man vs. Emotions

The young man in search of Eloise is unable to find any meaning in his life without his love. After ceaseless efforts to locate her, he succumbs to his heartache and despair; life has become a burden he feels that he cannot bear, so he lies "gratefully" on the bed waiting for the gas that he has turned on to kill him.