In this article we will discuss the summary and theme of Hearts and Hands. by O. Henry.

Hearts and Hands Summary

  • Two Friends Unit

The tale Hearts and Hands by O. Henry is played out on a train. The train journey is highlighted by a reunion of two former friends. Young and beautiful Miss Fairchild is surprised to see Mr Easton, her old friend on a train. He is sitting with another man, just in front of her seat.

On recognizing his old friend, Mr Easton offers his left hand for a shake as his right is locked in handcuffs. The other end of the cuffs is tied to a burly man seated next to him. Surprised to see him in cuffs, Miss Fairchild is lost for words.

  • Mr Easton’s Story

The strange man tries to break the awkward silence. He says that he was caught for a counterfeit fraud and was sentenced to a 7-year prison sentence. Mr Easton was the escorting Marshal and was responsible for his safe transportation to the prison in Leavenworth.

This information settles Miss Fairchild’s nerves as she had already assumed the worst in regards to her old friend (Mr Easton). They start talking together making up for their time apart.

Mr Easton tells her that he has adopted a life of struggle and responsibility as a law officer and given up his luxurious ways of the past. Now, he was living in the West after moving from Washington, where they both met.

Miss Fairchild confesses her love for the West as well. She feels tied down and restrained in her life in Washington. She feels that there she has to live according to other people’s opinions and judgments there.

All through the conversation, she continues to stare at the metal bracket around Mr Easton’s right hand. Observing her discomfort, the prisoner again offers an explanation saying that it was customary for the Marshal to keep them on so that the prisoner does not try to escape.

Then he asks Mr Easton to take him for a smoke as he has not smoked for a while and is craving it. Mr Easton wishes Miss Fairchild well and leaves with the prisoner.

  • Irony

The story then introduces two passengers who were sitting near the trio and overheard their conversation. One of them is full of praise for Mr Easton who seemed to have risen to the rank of a Marshal at a very young age.

The other, however, notice something very odd about him and the prisoner. Mr Easton has handcuffs on his right hand which is opposite to most of the law officers, who keep their right hand free and cuff the prisoner’s right hand.

Thus, at the very end of the story, we realize that it was Mr Easton who was the prisoner and sentenced to jail while his companion was the real Marshal.

The real Marshal had saved Mr Easton from an embarrassing encounter with an old friend by hiding his true identity, a true gesture of compassion and human understanding. This is the irony in Hearts and Hands.

Hearts and Hands Theme

‘Hearts and Hands’ by O. Henry explores various ideas from pretence, identity, independence and honesty. Through the character of Easton, the author highlights how the human psyche works on appearances and how people can manipulate their appearances to manipulate others.

It also comments on the lives many people live and which is confined, imitative and defined by what others’ expect from them. In a way, they live a life under constant judgment.

They live to fit other people’s opinions even without realizing so. Easton for all his politeness lived a life based on impersonation and deceit and never fulfilled his true potential.

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