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Creator / O. Henry

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Clearly a man who likes his twist endings.

William Sydney Porter (September 11, 1862 – June 5, 1910), Pen Name O. Henry, is an American writer of chiefly short fiction (the most famous piece being "The Gift of the Magi") and one novel (Cabbages and Kings). His stories are famous for their Mandatory Twist Endings, warm characterization and wit.

For some inexplicable reason—at least partially having to do with two film adaptations, which are quite good—he is most popular in the former USSR republics, where phrases such as "Bolivar cannot carry double" have become stock quotes.

The "Oh Henry!" candy bar (later associated with Hank Aaron) was partly named in homage to him. (And partly named for a boy who flirted with the girls at the candy factory.)


Works by O. Henry with their own trope pages include:

Other works by O. Henry provide examples of:

  • Ambiguously Gay: It's implied about as strongly as possible for a 1907 story that Sue and Johnsy are lesbian lovers. They are artists in Greenwich Village (even then a Gayborhood), they have affectionate nicknames for each other (and Joanna has the masculine nickname of "Johnsy"), they call each other "darling", and Sue snorts with derision when the doctor suggests that a man might be the cause of Johnsy's despair.
    • The film version inserts a failed love affair as part of the reason for Johnsy's collapse, probably so people wouldn't think they were together (good luck with that).
  • Balloon Belly: Poor Stuffy Pete in "Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen", after he guilt-trips himself into eating two huge Thanksgiving dinners in immediate succession provided by mutually unaware benefactors:
    "Around the first corner Stuffy turned, and stood for one minute. Then he seemed to puff out his rags as an owl puffs out his feathers, and fell to the sidewalk like a sunstricken horse."
  • Banana Republic: Cabbages and Kings is the Trope Namer.
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  • Beleaguered Childhood Friend: After 20 Years.
  • Big Applesauce: A popular setting of many of his stories; the short story collection The Four Million is set there.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Johnny Dorset from The Ransom of Red Chief.
  • Can't Get in Trouble for Nuthin': The Cop and the Anthem.
  • Con Man: Jeff Peters and Andy Tucker, protagonists in a cycle of stories.
  • Cowboy: Normally of the Working Cowboy varieties, protagonists in many stories.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: An early example in "Shark" Dodson from The Roads We Take.
  • Domestic Abuse: A Harlem Tragedy, which, despite the title and the subject matter, is a very light-hearted story.
  • Downer Ending: Occasionally, for example in The Furnished Room and The Last of the Troubadours.
  • Driven to Suicide: A particularly dark example of this in The Furnished Room. The woman the protagonist was looking for killed herself in said room - a fact the landlady covered up - and he also gasses himself to death.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Tempered Wind. Two conmen, Parleyvoo Pickens (the narrator) and Buckingham Skinner, team up with a third conman and set up a business in New York selling fake bonds. However, a newspaper report exposes the business as fake, and the conmen get a nasty surprise when their customers show up at the office and are revealed to be poor factory workers, disabled war veterans, old women, and even children. One woman tells them about how she had invested all her life savings and needs the money back for her dying child, while the factory girls are losing money for missing work, and one women is in tears because she was saving for her wedding. Pickens and Skinner give all the money back. When the reporter who wrote the article interviews the conmen again, Skinner says:
    Me and Pick ain't Wall Streeters like you know 'em. We never allowed to swindle sick old women and working girls and take nickels off of kids. In the lines of graft we've worked we took money from the people the Lord made to be buncoed—sports and rounders and smart Alecks and street crowds, that always have a few dollars to throw away, and farmers that wouldn't ever be happy if the grafters didn't come around and play with 'em when they sold their crops. We never cared to fish for the kind of suckers that bite here. No, sir. We got too much respect for the profession and for ourselves.
    • A lesser-known O. Henry short story, An Unfinished Story, used this to create the author's trademark twist ending. On Judgment Day, the narrator sees a long line of men waiting to go to Hell. Then the reader hears a sad story about a shop girl who only earns $5 a week. The story goes into details about her budget, how she sometimes goes hungry without anyone noticing, etc. She's about to accept a date from a rich man who has a taste for shop girls (whether he's a Romeo pimp or just likes to have kept women is not specified), but changes her mind at the last moment. The narrator says her story won't end until a night when she's feeling a little hungrier. Meanwhile, an angel tells the narrator that the long line of men are store owners who only paid their shop girls $5 a week, and asks "Do you belong with them?" "Not on your immortality," the narrator replies indignantly, "I only burned an orphanage and robbed a church!"
  • Exasperated Perp: The Ransom of Red Chief.
  • Flash Sideways: "The Roads We Take" starts as the story of a ruthless criminal who wonders what his life would have been like if he hadn't come West — then he wakes up, and from then on it's the story of a ruthless businessman who dreamed about what his life would have been like if he hadn't come East.
  • Gold Digger: Nancy and Lou in The Trimmed Lamp. Lou works in a laundry, while Nancy works in a high-end department store with rich customers, whose style and mannerisms she imitates. Both live in hope of bagging a rich man, especially Nancy, as she earns less than Lou (which Lou keeps rubbing in her face). Lou ends up with a rich man - but her boyfriend Dan leaves her for Nancy.
  • Ill Girl: The Last Leaf.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: The Ransom of Red Chief.
  • The Irish Mob / Officer O'Hara: As many of the stories are set in New York in the late 19th/early 20th century, there are plenty of examples of both. The Coming-Out of Maggie, for instance, involves an Irish-American gang and their girlfriends going to a dance. The titular Maggie's date, Terry O'Sullivan, turns out to be an Italian mobster called Tony, who she pretends is Irish as she's sick of never having a date for the dances. Unfortunately, his cover is blown when the gang leader's captain in the police force has no idea who 'Terry' is.
  • Let Off by the Detective: A Retrieved Reformation.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father:
  • Meaningful Echo: In "The Roads We Take", the paragraph about Dodson revealing his true nature is repeated word for word when the other Dodson turns out to be not so different.
  • Mock Millionaire: Transients In Arcadia; The Policeman O'Roon
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The Last of the Troubadours.
  • No Name Given: What the hell does that "O" stand for?
  • Pity the Kidnapper: Trope Codifier. In The Ransom of Red Chief two small-time criminals kidnap a Bratty Half-Pint who proves to be so insufferable that the kidnappers end up paying a ransom to his father to take him back.
  • Stupid Crooks: As mentioned immediately above, the kidnappers in "The Ransom of Red Chief." They're dumb enough to kidnap an obviously evil child, and he's such a terror that they end up having to pay his father to take him back.
  • That Man Is Dead: A Retrieved Reformation, in a way.
  • Title Drop: In "The Roads We Take", the protagonist wonders if he'd have turned out a different man if he'd made a key choice differently, and his colleague says "I reckon you'd have ended up about the same... It ain't the roads we take; it's what's inside of us that makes us turn out the way we do." The end of the story bears him out.
  • Tomato Surprise: After Twenty Years has the revelation that the main character is an infamous criminal.
  • Train Job: "The Roads We Take" opens with a trio of Wild West desperados hijacking a train when it stops to take on water.
  • Twist Ending
  • Villain Protagonist: Because O. Henry spent time in jail, many of his stories, like The Ransom of Red Chief, focus on (relatively) petty criminals.
  • Wild West: Another popular setting; usually limited to Texas ranches.


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