Hearts and Hands Analysis by O. Henry

Some writers write stories not to tell a tale but for the thrill of surprises that only words can offer. In the story, Hearts and Hands, the author presents characters who cross-paths and strike up a seemingly innocent conversation. These characters are oblivious and they are simply surging with the optimism of youth and still exploring their own individual identity. For instance, Ms. Fairchild who believes that she has known Mr. Easton for many years and considers him to be an old friend, has no idea about Mr. Easton’s current predicament. In fact, the readers and the passengers on the train, who are not blindfolded by familiarity, know more about him than she does. 


Also the title of the story is absolutely fitting as it symbolizes both the appeal of the young woman and the kindness of the marshal for the character of Easton. It has a rhythmic ring to it when said out loud and makes the reader curious about the story. There are at least three to four different perspectives of the same incident in the story and it’s the diversity that these characters present which makes it such a vibrant and endearing tale. The two handcuffed men, even in their physical description provide a contrast where one is handsome and frank and the other is heavily built and glum. The beauty of the writing lies in the fact that despite these outward differences they share an understanding which is rare and yet universal.

The protector of the law and the criminal offender are linked to each other with something more abstract than just the steel handcuffs. The marshal treated the prisoner like a friend, saving him from embarrassment by lying to the lady for him. He could have easily given him up for what he really is but he respected him as a person, who had an identity above and over being a criminal. The kind officer could guess that the girl and her opinion of the man she knew in the past could mean something to the prisoner and so he gave him his one private moment of past glory before continuing on with his duty of deporting the criminal. 

Compassion when received from completely unexpected sources can warm our hearts and make us want to be a better person. A promise of the pretty girl’s interest him and the kind gesture of the marshal might have possibly motivated the criminal to want to live a better and more responsible life in the future.       

Hearts and Hands Themes by O. Henry

The story, Hearts and Hands, has an underlying theme of the truth versus the lie. It speaks about how appearances can be deceiving and that a small harmless ruse can also brighten up a person’s day. We have been taught that the truth is the ultimate definition of goodness and purity of emotion. However, the character of the grumpy marshal, whom the readers at first believed to be a ruthless criminal, was in reality a nice person who could show kindness to someone who was a perpetrator of illegal actions. 

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In a world where people are generally intolerant towards people who are different from them in culture, ethnicity and religion, this officer shows exceptional tolerance. Criminals are generally treated with a lot of insults, humiliation and cruelty, some would even say rightly so, but this act of kindness can have a far greater impact upon the psychology of Easton than any punishment or terms of imprisonment can ever have. The memory of the conversation he had with the pretty Miss Fairchild can help him endure the darkest nights in prison while also giving him hope for a better world waiting for him outside. 

Hence, we can conclude that the basic theme of the story is the unreliability of appearances and that we should give everyone a chance through an act of kindness even when it’s difficult or unnecessary to do so.   

Hearts and Hands Character Sketch by O. Henry

Apart from the three main characters the story presents interesting side characters, as the passengers and on lookers of the train have a personality of their own. It’s through their observation and gossip only that the readers come to know about who the actual culprit was. Otherwise, just based on presentation and the ensuing conversation who could have guessed that Mr. Easton is not the marshal but the criminal? The readers were also fooled just like the young and beautiful and gullible Ms. Fairfax. Her character in the story is a vital aspect in the development of the plot. Her beauty has been described with great care by the author to create the accurate impression about her in the minds of the reader.

She was the kind of girl who was accustomed to attention and good living. Brought up within a veil of high society she could not contemplate a life of misadventure or crime which Easton had definitely indulged in. Her demeanor exuded beauty and poise and she kept all to herself sitting on a side of the train until she came across the two men. She was frank enough to recognize Easton, despite the handcuffs and extended her hand to him in a sign of remembrance and friendship. She surely admired the handsome and bashful Mr. Easton whom she still thought to be a rich gentleman from past acquaintance. It was for their sake that the good old marshal intervened and presented himself to be the bad guy. Mr. Easton, though embarrassed was sly enough to play along with this ruse.    

Conclusion

The author O. Henry has created a unique place for himself in the field of literature and the charming personality which he brings to his writing is irresistible. His stories are both at once predictable and unpredictable. Predictable when, if the reader knows anything about the author, then they are definitely expecting a surprise ending and unpredictable because of the way he twists the tale at the very end, just when you are least expecting it. All in in all, his stories provide an interesting read and the story, Hearts and Hands is no exception.


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