‘The Skylight Room’ by O. Henry

O. Henry 1905a

The Skylight Room by O. Henry, 1906

The magic trick:

A surprise ending that doesn’t just surprise, it elevates the other literary devices in the story

We’ve been doing love stories here on SSMT this Februrary, so you might be surprised when I say this week doubles as an O. Henry Week on the blog. O. Henry? Love stories? Yes, actually. He wrote some good ones, so here we go…

O. Henry is known for his surprise endings, and “The Skylight Room” has a doozy. While some of his endings sometimes only prompt hard rolls of the eyes, the twist here is actually pretty lovely.

This is a very nice portrait of urban loneliness, the coldness of class separation and the painful pining for romance. We have a symbol in the star, the metaphor of her focus on and love for Billy and, finally, the aforementioned twist. Very nice. And that’s quite a trick on O. Henry’s part.

The selection:

“It’s that star,” explained Miss Leeson, pointing with a tiny finger. “Not the big one that twinkles–the steady blue one near it. I can see it every night through my skylight. I named it Billy Jackson.”

“Well, really!” said Miss Longnecker. “I didn’t know you were an astronomer, Miss Leeson.”

“Oh, yes,” said the small star gazer, “I know as much as any of them about the style of sleeves they’re going to wear next fall in Mars.”

“Well, really!” said Miss Longnecker. “The star you refer to is Gamma, of the constellation Cassiopeia. It is nearly of the second magnitude, and its meridian passage is–”

“Oh,” said the very young Mr. Evans, “I think Billy Jackson is a much better name for it.”

“Same here,” said Mr. Hoover, loudly breathing defiance to Miss Longnecker. “I think Miss Leeson has just as much right to name stars as any of those old astrologers had.”

“Well, really!” said Miss Longnecker.

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