man looking around a room followed by a ghostly woman

The Furnished Room

by O. Henry

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What is the major conflict in "The Furnished Room"?

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The conflict of this story is that the landlady, Mrs. Purdy, does not want to tell the young man who comes to rent her room that a young girl committed suicide in the room shortly before he arrived. The young man is searching fruitlessly for this woman, whose name is Eloise Vashner, who sings on the stage. He has traveled everywhere looking for her, and while he is sitting in the decrepit, depressing room, he whiffs a slight odor of her perfume. The scent is personified as O. Henry writes, "It came as upon a single buffet of wind with such sureness and fragrance and emphasis that it almost seemed a living visitant." The odor itself is a teasing visitor.

The man in the story senses that the woman he is searching for has been here, but he searches in vain for any definite evidence of her presence aside from the fleeting scent. He looks at the personal effects in the room, but they are the generic sort that could belong to anybody. When he questions the landlady, she denies that anyone fitting Miss Vashner's description has been in the room. When later speaking with her friend, another landlady, Mrs. Purdy admits that she did not tell the young man about the woman who committed suicide the week before—a woman who fit Miss Vashner's description. Therefore, the young man's desire to find the missing woman conflicts with the landlady's desire to keep the young woman's suicide a secret so that she can continue to rent the room.

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

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.


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