Best Seller by O. Henry- hypocricy unfolded!


Best Seller, a short story written by O. Henry offers to the reader many fruitful moments of reflection, meditation, introspection and self-evaluation. The hero of the story, John S. Pescud’s hypocrisy is beautifully manifested by the gradual development of the plot by the writer. Undoubtedly, he has an obvious contempt for  ‘best sellers’ as they project unrealistic incidences of marriage.

The narrator was traveling in a chair-car heading towards Pittsburg on business. He swas a passenger hurling one of the best novels, ” the Rose Lady and Trevelyan” to the foor. He recognized the passenger as his old friend John A Pescud, a traveling salesman for a plate-glass company.

During the journey they discussed about the American Bestsellers. Pescud remarked that the story of Bestsellers was so uninteresting because of its unlikely real life situations and its significant connection with ordinary human beings. He also commented that in the nove, “The Rose Lady and Travelyan” the hero Trevelyan, scenes and characters are not consistent with reality and life.

As they talk further on, he told the narrator about his marriage. His wife was Jessie Allyn, the only daughter of the only daughter of the oldest family in Virginia. Her father, Colonel Allyn possessed the reputation of the biggest man and finest quality in Virginia. Pescud told the narrator how they met in a journey where he had least expected to find his life partner. Pescud narrated the incident how he chased her all the way on their journey from Illinois to Cincinnati. Like an American hero he followed her up till her home and decided to talk. the next morning he visited Allyns and not only ment the Colonel but also impressed him by his honest motives.

Finally, Pescud told that two  evening later he got a chance to meet Allyns alone. Colonel inquired about his family and was convinced that he was right for his daughter and got the two married. Pescud told the narrator that he would get down at Coketown in order to buy Petunias cutting for his wife as she was fond of them.

“The Rose Lady and The Trevelyan” might be unrealistic. But it cannot be universalized. There are instances of many human love stories where this apparent ‘geographical boundaries are broken. When it comes to love, and other strong emotions of man, there is no geographical barriers. They are unconditional. For example, one cannot help admiring the charitable works of Mother Theresa who came to India to serve the poor.She was a foreigner, but she was accepted in Indian society because of her sheer unselfish works.

The universal values and human life has bare similarities through out the world. People are moved by love, jealousy, hatred, sense of superiority, fear, sense of security, estrangement, psychological disturbances every nook and corner of the world. Human  beings have the same plight everywhere. One cannot envisage a totally different live any region. It has no constraints geographical bounds.

Life cannot be defined in strict terms. It differs from individual to individual. Most of the time, ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. The bridge  between  the former and latter is shortened day by day. Dreams have become possibilities. Potentialities have become actualities.

Questions for study.

I. Based on your reading of the story, answer the following questions by choosing the correct option.

(a) The narrator says that John was “______ of the suff that heroes are not often lucky enough to be made of.” His tone is sarcastic because __________.

(i) he hated John

(ii) he felt that John was a threat to him

(iii) John was not particularly good-looking

(iv) nobody liked John

Answer: (iii) John was not particularly good-looking

(b) Pescud felt that best-sellers were not realistic as____________.

(i) American farmers had nothing in common with European princesses

(ii) men generally married girls from a similar background

(iii) American men married girls who studied in America

(iv) American men did not know fencing and were beaten by the Swiss guards

Answer: (ii) men generally married girls from a similar background

(c) “Bully”, said Pescud brightening at once. He means to say that ____________.

(i) he is a bully

(ii) his manager was a bully

(iii) he was being bullied by his co-workers

(iv) he was doing very well at his job

Answer: (iv) he was doing very well at his job

(d) The narrator says that life has no geographical bounds implying that __________.

(i) human beings are essentially the same everywhere

(ii) boundaries exist only on maps

(iii) one should work towards the good of mankind

(iv) he was happy to travel to other countries

Answer: (i) human beings are essentially the same everywhere

II. Answer the following questions briefly.

(a) One day last summer the author was travelling to Pittsburg by chair car. What does he say about his co-passengers?

Answer: The compartment was full of affluent people, men and women, sitting in their chair-cars. Women were fashionably dressed in brown silk dresses with laces and veils. Men appeared to be travelling on account of
business.

(b) Who was the passenger of chair No.9? What did he suddenly do?

Answer: The passenger of Chair No. 9 was a man from Pittsburgh named John, an old friend of writer. He suddenly threw his book between his chair and window. The name of book was the ‘The Rose Lady and Trevelyan’, one of the bestselling novels of the present day.

(c) What was John A. Pescud’s opinion about best sellers? Why?

Answer: Pescud believed that the stories about best-sellers were not realistic. The themes revolved around
romances between royals and commoners, fencing, imaginative encounters and all the stuff that never happens in real life. In real life, one would always select a prospective bride from a similar background.

(d) What does John say about himself since his last meeting with the author?

Answer: John, since his last meeting with the author was on the line of general prosperity. He had his salary doubled twice and had bought “a neat slice of real estate.” His company was to sell him some shares of stock the coming year. Much settled in life, he had even taken some time off to experience some romance of which he tells the author next.

(e) How did John’s first meeting with Jessie’s father go? What did the author tell him?

Answer: John’s first meeting with Jessie’s father was successful, since it set the tone for a possible alliance in
future. John not only made his proposal, stated his intentions in clear terms, but also made Jessie’s father
laugh with his anecdotes and stories.

(f) Why did John get off at Coketown?
Answer : Jessie had fancied some petunias in one of the windows and she wanted to plant them in her new house. So Pescud thought of dropping at Coketown to dig or get some cuttings of flowers for her.
(g) John is a hypocrite. Do you agree with this statement? Substantiate your answer.
Answer : Yes, I believe that John is a hypocrite. The word hypocrite means the person tries to shows what he is not. John is such type of man. He said that he did not believe in the romance portrayed in best sellers. He believed the stories too good to be true. However, his own story was fantastical. His wife, the only daughter of the oldest family in Virginia, met him, an ordinary travel salesman of a plate glass company, in a journey where he would have least expected to find his life partner. Their courtship also was too fantastical, and even after all the episode, the fashion in which Pescud criticised love stories of best sellers proves him to be a hypocrite.

(h) Describe John A. Pescud with reference to the following points:

Physical appearance ………………………………………………………………………………..

His philosophy on behaviour …………………………………………………………………….

His profession …………………………………………………………………………………………

His first impression of his wife …………………………………………………………………

His success …………………………………………………………………………………………….

Answer

Physical appearance: John was not particularly good looking

His philosophy on behaviour: A man should be decent and law abiding in her/his hometown

His profession: A travelling salesman for a plate glass company

His first impression of his wife: A very fine girl, whose job was to make this world prettier just by residing in it

His success: Much successful John had had his salary raised twice in the previous year and his company was to give him a few shares as well.

III. Complete the flow chart in the correct sequence as it happens in the story.

Hint: it begins from the time John Pescud first saw Jessie till the time they marry.

(1) Jessie takes a sleeper to Louisville.
(2) Pescud sees a girl (Jessie) reading a book in the train.
(3) Pescud speaks to the girl (Jessie) for the first time.
(4) Pescud follows her but finds it difficult to keep up.
(5) Pescud goes to the village to find out about the mansion.
(6) Jessie arrives at Virginia.
(7) Pescud meets Jessie’s father.
(8) They get married a year later.
(9) Pescud instantly gets attracted to the girl (Jessie)
(10) Jessie informs Pescud that her father would not approve of them meeting.
(11) They meet alone two days later.

Answer

(2) Pescud sees a girl (Jessie) reading a book in the train.
(9) Pescud instantly gets attracted to the girl (Jessie)
(1) Jessie takes a sleeper to Louisville.
(4) Pescud follows her but finds it difficult to keep up.
(6) Jessie arrives at Virginia.
(5) Pescud goes to the village to find out about the mansion
(3) Pescud speaks to the girl (Jessie) for the first time.
(10) Jessie informs Pescud that her father would not approve of them meeting.
(7) Pescud meets Jessie’s father.
(11) They meet alone two days later
(8) They get married a year later.

IV. Irony refers to the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of their literal meaning. Working in pairs, bring out the irony in the following:
(a) The title of the story, “The Best seller”.
Answer: The Best Seller is supposed to be most popular and likeable. But John Pescud throws the best seller “The Rose Lady and Trevelyan” to the floor of the chair car. He later says that all bestsellers have the same unrealistic romantic stories.
(b) Pescud’s claim, “When people in real life marry, they generally hunt up somebody in their own station. A fellow usually picks out a girl who went to the same high-school and belonged to the same singing-society that he did.”

Answer: Pescud told the author that unlike the stories of the bestsellers, in real life people marry somebody in their own place. Someone who has been educated in a similar type of school and has grown up in a similar background. Yet the irony behind his claim is seen in his own life history. The moment he saw the unknown girl on the train, he fell in love with her, without much knowledge about her. He followed her to her destination and even after finding out that she lived in Elmcroft, Virginia, in a 50 room mansion, belonged to the oldest family in the state and her father was a descendent of the belted Earls he did not give up his pursuit. In spite of coming from totally different walks of life-he being an ordinary travelling salesman, their paths met and he went on to marry her.

(c) The name Trevelyan.

Answer : Trevelyan is the hero of the bestseller novel “The Rose Lady and Trevelyan.” Pescud condemns such best sellers and makes fun of its unrealistic characters. But at the end of the story, the author calls Pescud a Trevelyan because he had behaved almost like the hero of the bestseller.

Some links and videos

 

The Best Seller – O Henry

 

 

 

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