While the Auto Waits by O. Henry
In While the Auto Waits by O. Henry we have the theme of identity, honesty, curiosity, independence and acceptance. Taken from his Selected Short 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 identity. Throughout the story the young woman never reveals her identity to Parkenstacker nor is it possible that the young woman can be believed when she reveals to Parkenstacker who she might be. This may be significant as Parkenstacker knows that the young woman is lying to him when she reveals the limousine is waiting for her. However so deeply amused by the girl is Parkenstacker that he himself does not reveal his true identity. Without knowing it Parkenstacker and the young woman will only ever have a brief interlude due to the young woman’s desires not to be associated with a wealthy man.
Some readers might find this unusual. For a person to refuse wealth but it may be a case that Henry is highlighting the young woman’s independence from others. How she wishes to be able to support herself rather than have another person support her. It is also interesting that the young woman knows that Parkenstacker is lying too, when he says he is a cashier in the restaurant. Nonetheless she entertains Parkenstacker until it is time for her to go to work. It is also interesting that Parkenstacker never accuses the young woman of lying to him. He appears to accept her for who she says she is. This is admirable because it highlights that Parkenstacker is truly interested in the young woman and not what she may be. It is who she is that is important to Parkenstacker.
The setting of the story is also important as Henry may be using the night time to highlight to the reader the degree of the unknown or unseen that can occur when two people meet for the first time. Also the young woman is wearing grey. Possibly symbolic and highlighting the level of grey that can appear when one is engaged with another person. Things are not simply black and white in the story. The book that the young woman is reading is important too. It is a fantasy book and it is a different world to the world lived by those in New York (setting of the story). This may be Henry’s way of mirroring the situation the young woman finds herself in. She too in many ways lives in a fantasy. A fantasy that she may or may not truly believe in. If the young woman had been honest to Parkenstacker things might have turned out to be very different for both characters. The limousine itself might also be significant as Henry (and Parkenstacker) may be using it as a status symbol. A symbol that is impressive to the young woman and who might only ever hope to be driven by a chauffeur.
The end of the story is also interesting as it becomes clear to the reader that all is lost. Parkenstacker knows the truth about the young woman but rather than go to the restaurant to confront her he is driven to his Club. Similarly the young woman may never realise just how close she came to someone who would love her for who she is. With no strings attached. Due to both characters being dishonest to each other. Their relationship will not flourish. Things could have been very different if both had been honest with one another. An awkward engagement and a little bit of honesty could have led to something far different rather than both characters going their separate ways, never to meet again. Without mentioning it Henry manages to highlight to the reader the condition of the human heart and how difficult a romance, particularly the beginning of a romance, can be. In reality the reader is left to think what might have been? Should both characters have been a little more honest with one another? A friendship at the least could have developed if both characters were more honest with one another.