Sunday, 15 January 2017

Deal Me in Challenge: The Cactus by O.Henry

Card Drawn:


It seems what we've got here is a failure to communicate.
O. Henry is a dastardly clever writer and a master of irony in his short-stories. He is often celebrated for his slick prose and "twist endings" (rightly so) but one of his greatest strengths, to me, is the ability convey such powerful emotions without straying into the realm of sappy sentimentalism. Although many readers might find his style to be gimmicky, I have yet to come across any story by him that was not refreshing or delightful to read in some capacity and The Cactus is another noteworthy achievement. Writing in the realist tradition, O. Henry presents a cynical critique of male ego and vanity. The story opens with the protagonist, an upper-class gentleman named Trysdale, brooding on his past relationship with a woman that rejected his marriage proposal by sending a cactus plant as a parting gift. Harsh. Trysdale perceives himself to be quite the catch with the ladies as a dashing and intelligent fellow of great social standing, which is why it is so difficult for him to fathom why this woman (she is never named) would suddenly drop him like a hot-potato without so much as a letter to explain her actions. To make matters even worse, she is getting married to one of his friends and he is a member of the wedding party. Clearly, Trysdale is unable to reconcile with the past and is heart-broken but the fact that he would willingly attend her wedding suggests that he has masochistic tendencies. 

As the story progresses, we learn a little more about the relationship between Trysdale and the mysterious woman. They encounter each other at various social events, begin flirting and develop an amicable relationship that seems to be leading towards a blossoming romance. Perspective is important in this story and from Trysdale's point of view, he is overly confident that she cannot resist his charming sophistication. In fact, he even speaks Spanish, or at least, embellishes that he is fluent in the language to appear more distinguished. Even though he is under impression that she worships the ground he walks on, this pompous showmanship and false-front will be Trysdale's downfall. O. Henry understands the male psyche when it comes to 'dating' and the inclination for men to puff themselves up so that a woman will find them more attractive. Most people would agree that honesty is the best foundation for any healthy relationship but it is difficult for me not to empathize towards Trysdale even though he was not entirely truthful in his account of speaking another language. Let me qualify this statement by emphasizing that I am not saying that men should conjure up elaborate lies in order to win the affections of their romantic interest but to simply state that this pattern of behavior is very common, even amongst women when it comes to dating. We want to make the best impression on others so as not to come across as inferior in some way that would be damaging to our chances of achieving a potential match. Maybe we are embarrassed about our vocation or social status and want to present ourselves in a more interesting light. Regardless of our motivations, there does seem to be this intrinsic desire in human nature to adopt a different persona of ourselves when placed in a social situation, especially when it comes to dating. As Shakespeare famously said, "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players." The Cactus can be seen as a cautionary tale pertaining to the consequences when people are not honest with themselves or others, resulting in the missed opportunities of finding love. O. Henry hammers this point home with the sharp ironic ending that is achingly poignant.
  
Excerpt: 

The most notable thing about Time is that it is so purely relative. A large amount of reminiscence is, by common consent, conceded to the drowning man; and it is not past belief that one may review an entire courtship while removing one's gloves.

You can read this story HERE.


1 comment:

  1. While I have only read a few O. Henry stories, I agree with you that I have yet to read one that wasn't delightful. I haven't read this one but it sounds great.

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