Hearts and Hands by O. Henry
In Hearts and Hands by O. Henry we have the theme of appearance, freedom, imitation, honesty, identity and paralysis. Taken from his Selected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Henry may be exploring the theme of appearance. Easton is not who he seems to be. Rather than being the Marshall he is fact the prisoner, a rather charming prisoner too. Apart from the couple at the end of the story nobody else suspects that Easton is the prisoner which suggests that Eason is good at fooling people. Just as he is going to prison for counterfeiting Easton is also an imitation. Which may be the point that Henry is attempting to make. Throughout the story Easton is not only charming to Miss Fairchild but he is polite too. Both these traits would not exactly be traits that one would associate with a criminal. It is Easton’s purpose to fool people (counterfeit money) in life. Something he nearly manages to do with everybody on-board the train. It is also clear to the reader that Easton was once a suitor to Miss Fairchild though it appears whatever occupation he had at the time was not as good as Miss Fairchild’s other suitor an ambassador. This may be important as though the reader is aware that Easton is a counterfeiter he also appears to be playing with his identity. He may not have been a criminal when he was attempting to court Miss Fairchild in Washington.
Henry also appears to be exploring the theme of freedom. It is clear that Easton has or is about to lose his freedom for seven years but what isn’t as obvious is the fact that Miss Fairchild too has lost her freedom. She much prefers the west to Washington. It is as though she feels stifled in Washington. Having to live her life as others think she should live her life. The setting of the story is also interesting as a train cabin would be a confined space and in many ways the cabin acts as foreshadowing. Easton is to spend seven years in a confined space, a prison cell. It may also be important that the real Marshall doesn’t embarrass Easton by telling Miss Fairchild that Eason is in fact a prisoner and not a Marshall. By doing so Henry manages to allow Easton that last bit of freedom to express himself as he would like to express himself.
It is also interesting that Easton is a slight mystery to the reader. Though the reader never knows as to why Easton turned to counterfeiting it is possible that he longed for a life that was better than the life he had. Already he was rejected by Miss Fairchild and he may have thought that should he have money love too would come next. What is also intriguing is that at no stage in the story is Easton being honest. He is hiding behind a mask. In essence he is as unreal as the counterfeit money he printed. There is no sense that Easton is prepared to live his life honestly. First he counterfeits money than he takes on the persona of the Marshall. Though some critics might suggest that all Easton is doing is being deceitful it is more likely that he doesn’t really know who he is. Which would again play on the theme of identity. Rather than being real or himself Easton is an imitator. Which is not a crime in itself. Many people live their lives pretending to be something they are not. What is criminal is the fact that Easton printed counterfeit money.
It may also be important that at no stage does Easton drop his guard. He has a role to play and he plays it well. The reader also suspects that after Easton has served his seven years in prison he may not necessarily change. If anything Easton could be chasing an easy life. One that he thinks will help him climb the social ladder as quickly as possible. If anything Easton is to remain the same which would suggest a state of paralysis in Easton’s life. He is not going to make progress particularly for the next seven years while he is in prison. The only tools that Easton has at his disposable are those that will lead him back in to a life of crime. There is no sense that Easton will redeem himself while in prison. He had a chance at redemption when talking to Miss Fairchild. He could have been honest and told her that he wasn’t the Marshall but instead Easton played the role of imitator. The reader may never get to know the real Easton particularly if he continues to live a life of crime. As readers we know that he has feelings (previously for Miss Fairchild) however his form of expression is dishonest.