The Transformation of Martin Burney by O. Henry
In The Transformation of Martin Burney by O. Henry we have the theme of exploitation, control, addiction, struggle, desperation, change and satisfaction. 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 exploitation. Corrigan as the boss exploits his workers leaving them with only enough money to buy themselves food and board. If anything Corrigan has complete control over Martin and the other workers. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Corrigan has the ability to stop Martin from getting tobacco. If Martin was not addicted to smoking it would be irrelevant that he cannot get tobacco. However Martin through his desperation appears to be addicted to smoking. This addiction manifests itself in many ways. One of which is Martin kneeling on the floor of the boat to see if any of the other men have dropped some of their tobacco.
So desperate in fact is Martin that he ends up losing the respect of his fellow workers because he has continually asked them for some of their tobacco. Resulting in Martin being isolated by his fellow workers. It is also possible that Henry is suggesting or at least highlighting how difficult times were for immigrant workers at the time the story was written. Corrigan if anything has complete control over Martin (another Irishman). Though rather than being friends with Martin, Corrigan tries to control Martin by way of dispensing the tobacco to him. So lowly paid is Martin that he has little choice but to adhere to Corrigan’s refusal to sell him any more tobacco on credit. Corrigan’s goal is to profit from his workers and he successfully does so. With the exception of Martin who has become a liability to Corrigan. It is also possible that Corrigan is afraid he will not get paid for the tobacco he has already given Martin. Corrigan after all cares only for one thing, profit. It does not concern him that some of his workers are dependent on tobacco and as such dependent on him.
Tony’s character, though only briefly mentioned, may be important. As he acts somewhat as an antagonist to Martin’s character. One would expect Martin to follow through with Tony’s plans but that is not how things turn out. Once Martin has had his cigar he changes his mind about killing Corrigan. It is as though Martin feels satisfied after smoking the cigar. He does not see a point in killing Corrigan when he knows that he can leave Corrigan’s and get a job (and tobacco) in the Bronx. The hatred that Martin feels for Corrigan has disappeared. Which really highlights the importance of tobacco to Martin. To be swayed by one cigar highlights even further that Martin may be addicted to tobacco. His outlook on life totally changes and he is happier in himself. Something which might surprise readers as one would suspect that Martin would be in agreement with Tony. Who has also suffered at Corrigan’s hands.
If anything Martin becomes a defender of Corrigan’s rather than somebody who hates him. It really is a transformation. Driven by Martin’s craving for tobacco. It is also noticeable that Tony is afraid of the new Martin and as such abandons his position on the boat. No longer is he satisfied working in the kitchen now that Martin has threatened his life. Martin now has a new focus but remains paralysed. He has satisfied his addiction and has a new job waiting for him. He does not really need to kill Corrigan, regardless of how he previously felt about him. If anything Martin is to continue to live his life doing the same things. It is certain that he will end up running out of credit with his new employer. Just as he ran out of credit with Corrigan. Nothing will change for Martin. He will remain addicted to tobacco and will not see this as a weakness. Rather than Martin being in control. His new employer, like Corrigan, will be in control. Similarly when Martin asks his fellow workers in the Bronx for tobacco they will inevitably isolate or alienate Martin.