Transients in Arcadia by O. Henry
In Transients in Arcadia by O. Henry we have the theme of escape, loneliness, happiness, paralysis, change, identity and honesty. 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 escape. Both Madame Beaumont and Harold Farrington go to the Hotel Lotus to experience a life that they know is unattainable to them. Both take small breaks to experience how others who might be more financially fortunate than they are may live. Which suggests that both Madame Beaumont and Farrington long to escape from the realities or drudgery of their own lives. If anything it is the stale paralysis of their own lives that they are escaping from. Something that is symbolically noticeable in the story by the fact that Madame Beaumont wears the same gown to dinner every day. There is a repetitiveness in her life even though she has changed her routine and spent a week in the Hotel Lotus. If anything there has been no real change in Madame Beaumont’s life. The change that Madame Beaumont seeks only comes at the end of the story when Farrington is receptive to her advances and both characters admit to each other that they are not really who they have said they are.
This may be important, the fact that neither character has used their real name, as it plays on the theme of identity and the longing of both characters to see a substantial change in their lives. The reader suspecting in Madame Beaumont’s case that the need for change (and love) is driven by the sense of loneliness she feels within her life. Though she only briefly mentions her job in the story there is a sense that Madame Beaumont is trapped and longs to escape into a world that is unlike the life she is living. In the Hotel Lotus others are answerable to Madame Beaumont while the reality of her life is she is answerable to others (her employers). Madame Beaumont’s persona is totally fictitious as too is Farrington’s. Which suggests again that both have a strong desire to escape their circumstances. How far Madame Beaumont will go is noticeable by the cost of the gown that she wears. The gown itself costs nearly ten times Madame Beaumont’s weekly salary and it will take her over a year to pay for the gown. All so that she is able to spend seven days living a life that she can only dream of.
It may also be significant that Madame Beaumont admits to Farrington that her real name is Mamie Siviter. As by doing so she is taking the first steps (and risks) in changing her life. She believes correctly that Farrington (or McManus) likes her and she admits that she is living her life more in hopes than in reality. As too is Farrington. Both characters are drawn to each other without realising just how much they have in common with each other. Both are attempting to live an alternative life for a short period of time in the hopes that they may feel better within themselves. It is possible that Henry is suggesting that for the majority of people escape is something that they long for though people may not necessarily go to the same extremes (changing names) as Madame Beaumont and Farrington. If an individual has the opportunity of happiness they will grasp it with both hands just as Madame Beaumont and Farrington have.
The end of the story is also interesting as no longer is there a sense of paralysis for either character. They have both been honest with each other and it is through their honesty that both may achieve their goal of happiness. By arranging to meet for a date at Coney Island the reader suspects that there may no longer be a need for Madame Beaumont or Farrington to escape from who they really are. Though some critics may suggest that Madame Beaumont and Farrington have deceived others it might be important to remember that both are just longing for a different type of life. All they have really done is create alter egos of themselves in order to pursue some type of happiness. They have committed no crime and in reality are most likely doing what most people who long to escape would do. Create an alternative world for themselves or participate in a charade of sorts. With the ultimate goal being happiness. Whether Madame Beaumont or Farrington’s charade is dangerous is left to each individual reader to decide. Some may suggest neither can be trusted yet other readers might identify with both characters need to escape into a world that might afford them the opportunity of happiness. Again the only people that have been affected by both characters charade is the characters themselves and by the end of the story the reader suspects that both characters may have found happiness not in the charade they have decided to live but by being honest with one another about who they really are. By being someone else for a brief moment in time both characters have admitted to each other who they really are. Which is somewhat ironic. Both Madame Beaumont and Farrington have sought happiness by being someone else yet may have found happiness by being themselves.