What is the theme of "Hearts and Hands" by O. Henry?  

One of the main themes of O. Henry's short story "Hearts and Hands" is society's focus on appearances. Even though Mr. Easton is a convict, he successfully puts on the air of a marshal so as not to embarrass himself in front of Miss Fairchild. The interaction shows both how much their social circle cares about keeping up appearances and how deceptive those appearances can be, since they fail to indicate many things, such as criminality.

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In "Hearts and Hands," O. Henry sets out to satirize the manners, mores, and customs of the upper-classes. Miss Fairchild is an old acquaintance of Mr. Easton; they come from the same elite background, and previously moved in the same social circles. So when she catches up with him again on a train while he is handcuffed to a rather rough-looking man, she automatically assumes that he's the marshal. The thought that he could be a convicted criminal doesn't cross her mind for a moment.

Miss Fairchild's reflexive snobbery probably helps to explain why Mr. Easton has proved to be such a cunningly plausible criminal for so long. In the past, many people like her have been suckered into his various schemes due to his suave good looks and impeccably polished manners.

The story doesn't simply explore the gap between appearance and reality; it also shows us the excessive value placed upon appearances—of clothes, accent, social graces—by the American upper-classes. 

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In many of his stories, O. Henry holds the universal romanticized wish that people are intrinsically good and unselfish. This wish is exploited in the short story "Hearts and Hands." In fact, the title of this story suggests the theme that people will display "heart," or kindness, for others with no self-interest.

After they are seated across from the pretty young woman, the glum-faced man identifies the younger man handcuffed to him as the marshal. Miss Fairfield, who has recognized this younger one as one of her society, is relieved to know that he is no prisoner.

This glum-faced man asks Miss Fairfield to entreat the marshal to speak on his behalf when they reach Leavenworth prison. But, that it is he who possesses an unexpected kindness becomes known only in O. Henry's ironic...

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