Hearts and Hands by O. Henry: Theme & Analysis Video

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  • 0:03 About O. Henry
  • 0:28 Analysis of 'Hearts and Hands'
  • 2:38 Themes of 'Hearts and Hands'
  • 4:39 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.

''Hearts and Hands'' is a story about kindness written by O. Henry. This author is famous for his ironic short stories. In this lesson, we'll study the theme and analysis of this story.

About O. Henry

O. Henry was born in 1862 in North Carolina. His work is known for its irony, clever characters, plot twists, and wit. Having been arrested himself, perhaps O. Henry drew some perspective as to how Mr. Easton might have been feeling when he was spotted by a familiar face in ''Hearts and Hands''. Let's take a closer look at this O. Henry short story.

Analysis of ''Hearts and Hands''

In ''Hearts and Hands,'' a woman, Miss Fairchild, spots an old friend named Mr. Easton on a train handcuffed to another man. That man calls her friend Mr. Marshal when she sees the cuffs. Turns out, the man is actually the marshal, and Mr. Easton is the prisoner. The marshal just wants to save them both from embarrassment.

It takes very little information for Miss Fairchild to believe that the one person on the coach who she knows is a respectable man. Perhaps she associates her own class and respectability with her old friend, or perhaps she is very gullible. She doesn't think twice to question the word of the rough-looking man to whom her friend, Mr. Easton, is handcuffed.

When Miss Fairchild continues to talk about how she would like to move back to the West, possibly flirting and insinuating that she would be interested in courtship, the rough man, the real marshal, interrupts her. He calls Mr. Easton ''Mr. Marshal'' and claims to want to go to the smokers' room. With that, they leave the room. The real marshal is sparing the woman from further embarrassment and heartbreak by doing this. The more he allows Mr. Easton and Miss Fairchild to speak, the more he will have to lie.

Mr. Easton is as quick-thinking as the real marshal. He's also quite the opportunist. He doesn't flinch to lie and continues to lie to Miss Fairchild once the marshal gets the ball rolling. He lays out an explanation as to why he has moved to the West and why he won't be able to see her in the future. He even picks up on the hint from the marshal when he asks to go to the smoke room quickly. He immediately accepts the request claiming that he cannot deny a man asking for a smoke because, ''It's the one friend of the unfortunate.''

The real marshal is a selfless man. He sees the horror on Miss Fairchild's face when she first sees the handcuffs on Mr. Easton and speaks up. He calls Easton ''Marshal'' to detour her thoughts. Later, after he sees that she seems interested in Mr. Easton, he cuts the conversation short without revealing the truth to save her from embarrassment. The ''heart'' part of the title is dedicated to him. The ''hand'' part is about Mr. Easton. O. Henry's known for writing about good people, irony, and symbolism. This story has all three.

Themes of ''Hearts and Hands''

The main theme of the story is kindness. The real marshal is a kind man who spares Mr. Easton, as well as Miss Fairchild, some embarrassment with no ulterior motives at all. He gains nothing from doing this. He makes sure Miss Fairchild is informed that Mr. Easton is the marshal so she won't be so horrified after she spots the handcuffs on him. Then he even reconfirms this point when she is staring at the handcuffs later on.

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