The Four Million by O. Henry

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(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

O. Henry was not just the poet of the poor. The twenty-five stories in this collection depict every stratum of society. "The Skylight Room" is about a poor working girl, but "Mammon and the Archer" is a story of self-made wealth. There are stories about the young and the old, the upper class and the lower, the bohemian artist, the young working man, the down-and-out bum and, of course, O. Henry's favorite character type, the shop girl.

There is an inherent nobility in an O. Henry character, whatever his or her social status. The couples of any of the various love stories will do for examples. Even Soapy, in "The Cop and the Anthem," a bum who "viewed with swift horror the pit into which he had tumbled, the degraded days, unworthy desires, dead hopes, wrecked faculties and base motives that made up his existence," attempts to regain his lost decency. Rarely is there ever a villain in an O. Henry story, unless it is poverty, dreariness, or loneliness. Defeat is often the result of weakness, not active evil. Perhaps, O. Henry suggests, evil that results from indifference is the greatest iniquity of all.