Friday, February 18, 2005

The Skylight Room by O. Henry

The Skylight Room by O. Henry

This story would be most enjoyed by teen-age girls, I think.

The first character we meet is the landlady who is a bit snobbish. She has a number of rooms available to let. The largest rooms (and the most expensive) bring her great satisfaction. Ascending the stairs brings us to smaller and cheaper rooms. The smallest room is an embarrassment to the landlady. She has the housekeeper show this room.

We next meet Miss Leeson, a young typist who rents "the skylight room" because it is the only room she can afford. (This is the room shown by the housekeeper.) It's a tiny room with a small iron cot. The room's only redeeming quality is the skylight.

On summer nights, the roomers gather on the front steps to pass the time and talk. Miss Leeson is very popular due to her youth and charm. One of the older men becomes enamored with Miss Leeson.

During these summer evenings Miss Leeson tells everyone about one of the stars she can see through the skylight. She has named the star Billy Jackson. The school teacher, Miss Longnecker, corrects Miss Leeson announcing the correct name of the star. Miss Leeson declines to be corrected and clings to her name of the star.

Some time passes and Miss Leeson falls on hard times since she can no longer find employment. Our young friend, the one who can only afford the cheapest room, is so destitute that she can't afford to eat. She grows weak and frail.

She encounters the man, the one who wants to marry her, on the stairs. He proposes marriage. He lays before her rescue from her plight. If she would only accept his proposal, she would be cared for (and fed). She remains true to herself and declines his offer.

She is barely able to reach her room and falls onto her cot, too tired even to undress. She looks up at her star. Even in this weakened state, she can't bring herself to call her star by its correct name as she recalls Miss Longnecker's correction. Her last act is to raise two fingers to her lips in a kiss to her star, Billy Jackson.

Next day, having not seen Miss Leeson, they force the door open and find her barely alive.
The ambulance is called, and the doctor arrives to attend to the sick girl. He carries her down the stairs and takes her to the hospital.

In typical O. Henry fashion, we get the surprise ending - the doctor's name is William Jackson.

Positive aspects of this story:

-Miss Leeson is supporting herself as a typist. As parents, we should promote this quality - this determination to support ourselves. She was content to live within her means even though she lived in a tiny room and slept on an iron cot. This quality is becoming rare in modern America, in my opinion.

-Miss Leeson has an ideal of true love and romance in her mind and in her heart. She clings to this ideal even when she becomes destitute and is starving. She does not compromise. (Her ideal is her "birthright" which she will not sell for a bowl of porridge.)

-Miss Leeson's dream comes true. Her prince rescues her. We shall assume that Dr. Jackson is a prince who is worth the wait.

-There is a short exchange of words between the doctor and the landlady. We don't hear the conversation, but she does receive a sharp rebuke for her poor treatment of Miss Leeson. Those of us who have the ability to help someone in need should do so. The snobbish landlady was insensitive to Miss Leeson. We should keep ourselves alert and sensitive to the needs of others.

This story is available from The Gutenberg Project at at no cost in the book titled The Four Million by O. Henry.