man looking around a room followed by a ghostly woman

The Furnished Room

by O. Henry

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Why was the young man prowling through the "crumbling red mansions" in "The Furnished Room"?

Quick answer:

The man is prowling through the "crumbling red mansions" in search of his love. He has been looking for her for quite a long time with no luck.

Expert Answers

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The short story "The Furnished Room" by O. Henry is a tale of lost love, obsession, abandonment, pain, and frustration. It is about an unnamed man looking for his love without much luck.

What we learn is that he has been looking for a Miss Eloise Vashner for about five months, going from place to place and staying in room after room in the seedy area of the theatrical district of New York's lower West Side.

He describes his lady as

A fair girl, of medium height and slender, with reddish gold hair and a dark mole near her left eyebrow.

She is a singer on stage who has probably lodged herself in one of the many "crumbling red mansions" that abound in the district. In his search, the protagonist's search has included asking everyone, from schools to choruses and other actors, to figure out where she is.

We also learn that she loves the smell of mignonette. When he detects the smell in the room that he is currently renting, he assumes that she must have stayed there in the past. He asks the housekeeper again who has rented the rooms recently but continues to get the same answer.

In the end, through a conversation between Mrs. McCool and Mrs. Purdy, the housekeeper, we realize that Mrs. Purdy has been holding back important information that could have helped the protagonist: a suicide had occurred in the very room where he is staying. The person who committed the suicide is described as

handsome ... but for that mole she had a-growin' by her left eyebrow.

This shows that the woman that the protagonist is looking for has died. She committed suicide in the very room he is renting, and perhaps his intuition and desperation are the ironic reasons why he coincidentally ends up in that room.

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