Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Heavily descriptive opening paragraphs set a bleak and depressive atmosphere surrounding this tale of life among the ordinary, struggling urban dwellers of New York’s seedy lower West Side. A typical O. Henry story, “The Furnished Room” manifests the devices and strategies associated with all his popular tales. Dealing in literary deception and trick endings, he deliberately withholds crucial information in this tale until the very end. Thus, the story depends entirely on event, not at all on character. All pivots and turns on the elements of coincidence and surprise. The author shrewdly parcels out his information to create the unlikely scenario. In lieu of characterization, however, is the inventive trick of creating the furnished room itself as a character, revealing an ability to breathe, to influence, to suggest, to precipitate conversation and reaction. This room manifests a human personality and helps establish an aura of mystery and supernaturalism alongside the young man’s psychological disintegration. As he deteriorates and degenerates into the suicidal, the room appears an active participant in the regression. O. Henry’s technical skill works to evoke sympathy for the tortured young man caught in the throes of a villainous room whose foreboding pressure appears intent on destroying him.

O. Henry, alternately praised and condemned for employing the artificial over the artistic, artifice over art, infused “The Furnished Room” with familiar journalistic techniques easily recognized and understood in his time as plausible anecdotes of human behavior trapped and controlled by sometimes impassive, often cruel, fate. This story of lost love and thwarted hopes, sentimental and ironic, is directed solely at the reader’s heartstrings, requesting simply that one respond with sympathetic passion rather than rational disbelief.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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Langford, Gerald. Alias, O. Henry: A Biography of William Sidney Porter. New York: Macmillan, 1957.

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