‘Two Thanksgiving Gentlemen’ by O. Henry

Henry, O. 1907

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 selection:

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.

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‘An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving’ by Louisa May Alcott

Alcott, Louisa May 1881

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott, 1881

The magic trick:

Creating an appealing rustic, domestic setting

A lot of different things happen in this story, between the ailing grandmother and the would-be bear attack. But let’s be honest – the only part that really matters is the setting. There is something very appealing about domestic life in the American countryside during the mid-1800s. People just love it, the idea of a large family working together to keep a cozy home amidst daunting natural elements. It worked for Alcott in Little Women; it worked for Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House On The Prairie books; and it works here. And that’s quite a trick on Alcott’s part.

The selection:

“Sakes alive, I don’t, boys! It’s a marcy it don’t come but once a year. I should be worn to a thread paper with all this extra work atop of my winter weavin’ and spinnin’,” laughed their mother, as she plunged her plump arms into the long bread trough and began to knead the dough as if a famine were at hand.

Tilly, the oldest girl, a red-cheeked, black-eyed lass of fourteen, was grinding briskly at the mortar, for spices were costly, and not a grain must be wasted. Prue kept time with the chopper, and the twins sliced away at the apples till their little brown arms ached, for all knew how to work, and did so now with a will.

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