The Romance of a Busy Broker by O. Henry
In The Romance of a Busy Broker by O. Henry we have the theme of love, conflict, control and gender roles. 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 love. Maxwell is very much in love with Miss Leslie. Something that is clear to the reader by way of the fact that the previous evening Maxwell married Miss Leslie. Though he himself appears to have forgotten this and asks her to marry him again. What is also interesting about the story is the possibility of Maxwell being in conflict with himself. While he is working he is working hard and is focused on the task at hand. Yet his heart is not really in his work. It belongs to Miss Leslie. It is also noticeable that Maxwell forgets about asking for a replacement stenographer. This could be significant as Maxwell may not be comfortable with his wife working in the same office as him or working at all. If this is the case then Henry may be exploring the role of women in the workplace.
Pitcher’s role in the story may also be important as he in many ways acts as the reader’s eyes and ears. It is through his expressionless reaction to what is happening that the reader themselves discovers what is happening. The fact that Pitcher is expressionless throughout the story could also have some significance as in many ways the reader doesn’t know how to react to Maxwell throughout the story. He acts firstly like a machine when he is working and then he acts like a man in love later on in the story. It can be confusing for the reader to try and understand what is happening because everything happens so quickly. Which mirrors the fast-paced manner in which stocks and shares are being bought and sold by Maxwell. Miss Leslie’s exclusion to another room is also interesting as again Henry may be exploring the theme of gender roles and the exclusion of women from the work place. Also Miss Leslie is described as being beautiful as though she is some type of trophy for Maxwell. This too could be significant as it suggests that men at the time may have objectified women rather than having attempted to treat them as equals in a relationship. Though it may be difficult for Maxwell not to objectify Miss Leslie considering that he is so much in love with her.
As to how Maxwell could have forgotten he married Miss Leslie the previous evening is difficult to say. Perhaps when he arrives in the office he immediately goes into a machine like process and forgets the world around him. Only pausing for the real world when a breeze catches him. The fact that it is spring might also be symbolically important as quite often in literature spring is used as a symbol of love or the period in whereby two characters might fall in love. It might also be a case that Henry is suggesting that Maxwell is too busy to remember that he got married. Which may leave some readers thinking that perhaps the marriage between Maxwell and Miss Leslie may not last should Maxwell not change his habits. Work is one thing but a married man needs to ensure that his time, particularly his time with his wife, is spread out evenly. If not then the marriage may be short-lived.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader never really gets any insight into how Maxwell feels about being married to Miss Leslie. We do know that he is in love with her and wants to marry her but Henry does not afford Maxwell the opportunity to speak at the end of the story. This may be deliberate and Henry could be reversing gender roles. Allowing on this occasion for the female (Miss Leslie) to have the last word rather than having Maxwell speak. If this is indeed the case then it is possible that Maxwell may have met his match and that he will not be able to control Miss Leslie, the wife as he has Miss Leslie, the employee. Throughout the story it has been Maxwell who has been in control of the office with others doing as they were told. This may not be the case going forward. Miss Leslie through marriage may have found her voice just as she is the last character to speak in the story. Equality may be at hand for Miss Leslie particularly due to the fact that Maxwell is so in love with her that he is speechless.