A Service of Love by O. Henry: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:05 Love and Service
  • 0:20 The Beginning
  • 1:19 A Silver Lining
  • 2:08 The Reveal
  • 3:04 Analysis
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

''A Service of Love'' is one of many short stories written by American author O. Henry. In this lesson, we will provide a summary and analysis of ''A Service of Love.''

Love and Sacrifice

We grow up hearing the phrase ''Love conquers all.'' O. Henry's short story ''A Service of Love'' is a great example of how love drives two people to sacrifice their ambitions for the sake of each other. It's not a typical fairy tale, but it could make a good one.

The Beginning

The story begins with the premise that ''when one loves one's Art no service seems too hard.'' O. Henry then introduces Joe, our main character, as an aspiring artist. When Joe was six years old, his first painting was hung at the drug store. Now, at age 20, he is headed to New York to study art. Delia is a talented pianist. She's from the South, and her family gathers up the money to send her to art school in the North.

Joe and Delia meet at an artsy workshop where people like them hang out. They fall in love and are married soon after. They take up a small, unimpressive flat but are happy together. They have each other, and they have their art.

Joe enrolls in an expensive class with a famous Magister, and Delia studies under Rosenstock, a famous pianist. Joe wants to paint pictures that old, rich men would love to buy. Delia wants to be sought after by orchestras where she can be treated like a diva. They talk about their goals over their quaint dinners. Everything seems fine until money starts to run out.

A Silver Lining

One day, Delia comes home excited and tells Joe that she's found a student. She's going to give music lessons to the daughter of a wealthy general. She explains how lovely their home is and how the daughter is a wonderful girl who always wears white. Joe is distraught; he doesn't want her to have to work and put her music aside. He thinks about quitting his art and getting a blue collar job. Delia disagrees. Joe hopes someone will buy his sketches that are hung in Tinkle's window.

At the end of the week, Delia proudly places her wages on the table: $15 for three classes per week. She complains about her student, Clementina, saying that Clementina doesn't listen and doesn't practice enough. She describes how wonderful the house is. Then, Joe takes out $18 he earned from a fat rich man who bought his sketch. Delia is delighted, and they celebrate.

The Reveal

The next week, Delia comes home with bandages on her hand. Her explanation is that Clementina spilled hot food on her. She says that General Pinkney sent the furnace man to bring cloth and oil for her burns.

Joe becomes suspicious and asks her what time this happened. She says at five o'clock, ''the iron - I mean the rabbit came off the fire about that time.'' Joe asks her to sit down and inquires what she has actually been doing with her time. She confesses that she lied and has been ironing shirts at the laundry. She didn't want Joe to give up his art, so she decided to take this job instead.

She asks how he knew that she was lying. He then confesses that no one bought his sketches. He's been working on the engine at the laundry place and coincidentally had sent up cotton and oil for a girl working upstairs who burned her hand. They both laugh. Then Joe says, ''when one loves one's Art no service seems too hard'', but Delia corrects him and says, ''just 'When one loves.'''

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