Anthony Rockwall, a retired soap manufacturer and self-made millionaire, believes that money can accomplish anything; he declares, “I’ll bet my money on money every time.” He thinks the power of his money can carry his son Richard into the exclusive New York social world. Because he is rough, crude, and down-to-earth, Anthony Rockwall has never been welcome in this elite world of wealth and privilege. By contrast, young Richard, a gentleman in appearance and manners, has recently graduated from college and returned home to find his place in New York’s elite society. He has, however, unhappily discovered that money cannot accomplish everything that his father believes it can. In the upper-class circle of his friends, he has met and fallen in love with the beautiful Miss Lantry, whose high social position and wealth make her unattainable to him. Not only can he find no opportunity to propose to her; he can barely find time in her busy social schedule to talk to her. He will see this beautiful woman for only a few minutes the following day; then she leaves New York for a two-year trip to Europe.
While father and son discuss the power and limitations of Rockwall money to make dreams come true, the father forms a plan using the power of wealth. He advises his son that if he wants to succeed, he should make a token offering at the altar of Mammon, the money god. Later Aunt Ellen, having heard about this conversation from her nephew, reproaches her brother, insisting that wealth means nothing in regard to true affection—only love is all-powerful. She gives her nephew a treasured love token, his mother’s quaint old gold ring. She counsels him to wear it to bring him luck in love when he meets Miss Lantry.
When young Richard meets his love at the train station, he takes her to her next engagement, a destination several minutes away. Unexpectedly, he drops the gold ring during the cab ride. Stopping briefly, he retrieves the token and plans to speed toward their destination. The journey does not continue smoothly, however. Without warning, dozens of cabs, wagons, carriages, loaded teams, motorized vehicles, and cross-town cars crowd around them, creating an impassable traffic jam.
Two hours later, the young lovers emerge from the traffic jam engaged to be married. When Aunt Ellen shares the happy news with her wealthy brother, she comments that the gold ring, a symbol of the power of love, allowed Richard to win his beloved. Unknown to her, Anthony had his part to play in the engagement too. He meets with an old trusted employee to make the final payment to the many drivers hired to create the enormous traffic jam around his son’s cab. Having bought the time his son needed to make Miss Lantry his own, Anthony Rockwall has confirmed to himself the omnipotence of money. The tycoon doubts that Cupid, the bow-and-arrow-carrying god of love, offered any assistance at all.
O. Henry’s ‘‘Mammon and the Archer’’ begins with an example of Anthony Rockwall’s unwillingness to accept the limitations of his position. As a self-made millionaire, Rockwall does not belong to the same aristocratic circle as his neighbors, who despise the fact that Anthony lives among them. When Anthony sees one of his neighbors turn his nose up at a renaissance sculpture in front of Anthony’s home, Anthony tells himself that he will have his house painted red, white, and blue the following summer, to make his neighbors even more angry at him.
Anthony calls for his son, Richard, and proceeds to ask Richard how much he pays for soap and clothes. Anthony is satisfied with Richard’s answers, which show that Richard does not pay as much as the other young, wealthy men in the city. Anthony tells Richard that, due to his money, Richard is a gentleman in one generation, whereas common wisdom has always stated that it takes three generations to make a gentleman. Despite Anthony’s belief that money can buy everything, however, Richard says that he is...
(The entire section is 1,296 words.)