Monday, September 15, 2014

O. Henry's The Voice of the City - Review

O. Henry's short story, "The Voice of the City", published in a compendium of the same name (1919) is a stunning tale spun from the meticulous spindle of the poetic heart. It is a heart that can gaze through the apparent indifference of the city and discover in its soul the romantic song of the lovebird. William Sidney Porter shocks us with phrases such as "the best bartender in the diocese" and "the spiel limit", for sure; but, there is nothing more surprising than the sudden epigram at the end of a much expected climax.

The story writer searches for the voice of New York city. To the bartender, his question is, "doesn't the gab of it [the city] seem to kind of bunch up and slide over the bar to you in a sort of amalgamated tip that hits off the burg in a kind of an epigram with a dash of bitters and a slice of—" To the cop, he says, "let me ask you. You see New York during its vocative hours. It is the function of you and your brother cops to preserve the acoustics of the city. There must be a civic voice that is intelligible to you. At night during your lonely rounds you must have heard it. What is the epitome of its turmoil and shouting? What does the city say to you?" Yet, regardless of who the question is addressed to, at each turn of the interval, the spindle's timely thread turns in a romantic hue. There is some girl or the other who sets the pitch and dances off the notes on the musical staff. The writer ponders and returns to the girl he first addressed this question to.
I sat at her side and we watched a little cloud tilt at the drifting moon and go asunder quite pale and discomfited.

And then, wonder of wonders and delight of delights! our hands somehow touched, and our fingers closed together and did not part.

After half an hour Aurelia said, with that smile of hers:

"Do you know, you haven't spoken a word since you came back!"

"That," said I, nodding wisely, "is the Voice of the City."

One wonders if O. Henry did really discover the voice of New York. It may be difficult to know that. But, it stands for sure that the story did discover O. Henry's heart.

The story tries to introduce, if not highlight, spirit into the machinery monotony of life. The voice of the city is heard in the poetic moment of silence that it finds at the end of the day, in the transcendent possession of love.

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