Last night (1st February, 2009) after a long time I was reading the short stories of one of my all time favourites – O. Henry. As I said that it was after a long gap that I was reading his stories, and I realized that I still find those stories to be what I would find them in my younger days – ultra-fascinating.
There are several factors that make O. Henry stories (originally named William Sydney Porter) so charming for readers. These factors are, in the language of Wikipedia, “their wit, wordplay, warm characterization and clever twist endings.” Absolutely correct. O. Henry’s mastery of the language and natural ability to give twisted endings to his stories are legendary. Equally captivating is the way he created the main characters of his stories, characters which are so interesting in the way they talk, think and behave. And yes, the subtle sense of humour found in those stories also add a lot to their appeal.
However, personally I feel that the master storyteller’s actual dexterity lay in his ability to find a “plot” in matters and situations that appeared so ordinary and insignificant to other people. At least in a number of O. Henry stories I have found the plot to be based on scenarios or issues that are in no way extra-ordinary, at least apparently. It seems to me as if the gifted writer used to “dig out” a story that lay buried under an ordinary garb, a garb that belied the “story potential” of the situation that the master storyteller would expose to us, with aplomb.
Just think of the plots of the stories like “The Gift Of The Magi”, “The Last Leaf”, “The Cop And The Anthem” and “After Twenty Years”. And you will probably understand what I mean.
O. Henry was a magician of language, a great player of words, and a master of imagination. And above all, he was a great “story digger”, who enabled us to find the striking stories that lie hidden behind petty everyday affairs, of which we ourselves are a part.