The Pendulum by O. Henry
In The Pendulum by O. Henry we have the theme of repetition, appreciation, remorse, guilt, change, paralysis, selfishness and dependency. Taken from his Selected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Henry may be exploring the theme of repetition or routine. Not only does John have a routine that he is accustomed to but Henry may also be suggesting that so too does everybody else that John encounters on his way home. It may also be important that Henry compares those going home in the evening as being like sheep as he may be suggesting that a person will follow and do the same things regardless. If anything an individual may be void of independent thought and just follow others aimlessly. Something that John himself appears to be guilty of particularly if the reader considers his activities after he has finished dinner. Every night John does the same thing and goes to McCloskey’s despite Katy’s disapproval. John is following others (his friends) and forgetting that he is a married man with responsibilities to others. It is only after Katy goes to her mother’s that John begins to feel guilty about his activities. At no stage in the story does the reader sense that John appreciates anything that Katy does. Her efforts go unnoticed till she is no longer there.
Henry may also be exploring the theme of remorse. As John is sitting in his apartment he begins to feel remorseful about how he has treated Katy. For the first time in the marriage he realises that he has not really considered Katy’s input into the marriage as being important. This may be significant as Henry may be suggesting that at the time the story was written many women within a marriage may have been inappropriately treated. With their true value not being appreciated by their husbands. A woman’s role was considered to be one of domesticity something that is obvious to the reader throughout the story. Katy’s role is to look after John without being allowed anytime for herself. If anything John doesn’t take Katy seriously something that is clear when Katy queries John about going to McCloskey’s. Rather than staying at home John may feel as though he is being hen-pecked by Katy. John’s world revolves around what he wants to do. With no consideration being given to Katy.
The title of the story may also be symbolically important as Henry may be using the motion of a pendulum to suggest that John has the capacity to change. Which seems to be his intentions when he realises that Katy has gone to her mother’s. However just as a pendulum swings back to its original position so too does John when he decides on Katy’s return that he will follow his usual routine and go to McCloskey’s to play pool with his friends. Despite all his good intentions John never follows through with changing his routine. He reverts back to what he knows, back to his original position of being self-centered and giving no consideration to Katy. If anything John treats Katy as though she is his personal servant. There is no sense of equality between John and Katy. Which again was the case for many women (married or not) at the time the story was written. Despite feeling guilt and remorse for his behaviour towards Katy John doesn’t change. Which suggests that John may be symbolically paralyzed.
Which may be the point that Henry is trying to make. It is possible that Henry is suggesting that just as a man’s role may not change so too a woman’s role would remain the same. There would be no change in circumstances. Just as Henry describes those walking home as being like sheep and following each other. John too is following in the tradition of male dominance. The world revolves around John rather than any sense of Katy being included. At no stage does John invite Katy to McCloskey’s rather he is serving his own needs and forgetting about any needs that Katy might have. It is only for a brief moment that John decides to change when he realises Katy is gone. Yet when she returns he reverts back to his old habits and thinks only of himself. If anything John is acting selfishly. Following the lead that society has outlined for the male. A woman’s place is in the home yet a man is allowed to live his life as he sees fit without any consequences. The real victim in the story is Katy though at the beginning of the story the reader may believe because of the repletion that exists in John’s life that he may be the victim. There is also no doubting that a change is necessary but the reader is left feeling as though the change will not come. John will continue to live his life as he sees fit doing as he wants without truly valuing any input that Katy may have. The reality being that John is dependent on Katy. Whether he really knows it or not is a different matter.