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O Henry Short Story Summaries

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Introduction - About The Stories

The irony and surprising endings of the works of American short-story writer O. Henry, actual name William Sydney Porter (1862–1910), have come to be recognized as the hallmarks of a fine O. Henry short story. Despite the humour of O. Henry's storytelling style and the deftness of his twisted endings, the term "sentimental" is often used to characterise his short stories.

O Henry Short Stories

The Gift of the Magi

Without a doubt, this is O. Henry's most well-known story. It was written in 1906 and tells the story of Jim and Della, a married couple who don't have much money to spend on Christmas gifts for one another. Jim has a gold watch passed down through the years, and Della has her long, thick hair, which they both value beyond all others. How will Della come up with the cash to get Jim a gold watch chain and how the story unfolds for the couple is an interesting thing to know.

The Gift of the Magi

The Gift of the Magi

Mammon and the Archer

This tale is also from that year, 1906. Anthony Rockwall, a former soap producer, places 'Mammon,' or money, above everything else. Cupid, the deity of love, is the "Archer" of the story's title. Richard points out that the girl he loves is departing in a few days and he hasn't been able to win her hand, after which his father Rockwall informs him that money can buy him everything in life. 

He intends to propose to his girlfriend while wearing a ring that his mother gave him in her will, but he drops the ring and... We won't tell much more, but let's just reiterate that O. Henry's knack for twist endings makes everything turn out differently.

Mammon And the Archer

Mammon and The Archer

Memoirs of a Yellow Dog

The yellow dog that serves as the story's narrator describes his life, his owners, and his love for (and disdain of) his master in this 1903 short story. In this tale, a man and his dog truly bond closer than a man and his wife.

A yellow dog who resides in New York tells the story. He has no memory of his birth, but he can recall an elderly woman on Broadway attempting to sell him to a "big lady." This woman fussed over the dog and addressed him in a cute manner, referring to him as "um oodlum, doodlum, woodlum, toodlum, bitsy-witsy skoodlums" (which, in reality, has no clear meaning). She refers to him as Lovey. The dog devises a scheme to make things better for himself and the spouse because he openly disdains what the woman does during the day while her husband is away at work.

The Duplicity of Hargraves

This tale, which was first published in 1902, is about an ageing Major Pendleton Talbot and his daughter Lydia, a spinster. After relocating from the American South to Washington D.C., the duo runs into vaudeville performer Henry Hopkins Hargraves. When the poor Major and his daughter attend a performance, they are horrified to discover Hargraves acting in the role of the Major in front of the crowd. A guy who claims to be a former slave of the Major from the antebellum era then appears and tries to get the duo out of their difficult situation.

The Duplicity of Hargraves

The Duplicity of Hargraves

The Last Leaf

Along with "The Gift of the Magi," this 1907 short story is one of his most well-known, and it may perhaps be the most well-known O. Henry short story ever.

It centres on three artists: two females, and a guy buddy who is also an artist. One of the two ladies develops pneumonia, and it appears she will pass away from the illness. She thinks she will pass away when the final leaf of the year falls from the final tree. We won't give away the ending, but we will say that Mr. Behrman, the friend, is crucial to the plot's surprising conclusion.

The Last Leaf

The Last Leaf


O. Henry excelled at cliffhanger endings. In "Makes the Whole World Kin," a thief breaks into a home but decides to offer the owner a drink rather than stealing him after talking to him. In "Squaring the Circle," an unexpected series of circumstances lead to a man's reconciliation with his foe.

A sour parody, "The Unfinished Story", The Roads We Take, Phoebe, The Gift of the Magi, Mammon and the Archer, The Last Leaf, and more stories are also covered.

This is a wonderful introduction for people who have not yet read O. Henry's story.

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FAQs on O Henry Short Story Summaries

1. Who is O Henry?

American author O. Henry is renowned for his short stories' humour, wordplay, and deft twisted endings. He produced around 600 short tales on American life. William Sidney Porter was his name; he was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, on September 11, 1862. Algernon Sidney Porter, his father, was a physician. William's mother passed away when he was three, and his grandmother and aunt raised him. At the age of 15, he dropped out of school and worked many jobs, including bank clerk.

2. What were his first writings?

He started writing short tales when he was incarcerated to support his little daughter Margaret. "Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking'' was his very first tale to be published (1899). As he didn't want his readers to know he was in jail, he only used the alias Olivier Henry once before switching to the name O. Henry. While incarcerated, he published twelve short stories. He was granted early release for good behaviour after serving three years of the five-year sentence. In 1902, he relocated to New York City and began penning a weekly tale for the New York World as well as for other magazines.