‘Tobin’s Palm’ by O. Henry


Tobin’s Palm by O. Henry, 1906

The magic trick:

Setting up a classic fairy tale type plot with characters waiting for fate to show itself three times and then sending it all up in a joke

The structure of “Tobin’s Palm” recalls in many ways a very, very old kind of storytelling; ancient myths and fairy tales. We are presented in the beginning with three things that are supposed to happen in the near future. We then read on waiting for those things to happen. Thing is this kind of tale is based on the notion of destiny – the invisible lines pulling us through the world. There’s supposed to be magic involved. But in the world of O. Henry’s comi-seedy New York, that’s the joke. We’re sending up the fairy tale story now. Fate doesn’t seem to be intervening the way we expected and the characters start getting impatient. It’s all lightweight fun. And that’s quite a trick on O. Henry’s part.

The selection:

The way Tobin put it,it did seem to corroborate the art of prediction, though it looked to me that these accidents could happen to any one at Coney without the implication of palmistry.

Tobin got up and walked around on deck, looking close at the passengers out of his little red eyes. I asked him the interpretation of his movements. Ye never know what Tobin has in his mind until he begins to carry it out.

“Ye should know,” says he, “I’m working out the salvation promised by the lines in me palm. I’m looking for the crooked-nose man that’s to bring the good luck. ‘Tis all that will save us. Jawn, did ye ever see a straighter-nosed gang of hellions in the days of your life?”


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