Two Thanksgiving Gentlemen by O. Henry, 1907
The magic trick:
Demonstrating human kindness behind the ironic ending
An O. Henry story with an irony-laden ending? I don’t believe it. Shocking, really.
Sarcasm aside, the ironic ending in this story actually is really sweet, as it reveals acts of great kindness and sacrifice performed by both the Old Gentleman and Stuffy Pete.
If a story is dependent on a surprise twist for all of its appeal, it won’t hold up over time. We already know what happens. The twist is no longer a twist. But if the twist allows the author to make a point larger than mere plot surprise then it can stand up to repeat reads. “Two Thanksgiving Gentlemen” falls into this latter category. The twist is full of charming irony, but, more importantly, it helps to restore a modicum of faith in humanity. And that’s quite a trick on O. Henry’s part.
The Old Gentleman moved, straight and proud, toward the tradition that he was building. Truly feeding Stuffy Pete once a year was not a very important tradition. There are greater and more important traditions in England. But it was a beginning. It proved that a tradition was at least possible in America.
The Old Gentleman was thin and tall and sixty. He was dressed all in black. He wore eye-glasses. His hair was whiter and thinner than it had been last year.