The Dangers of Arrogance
“The only thing that is more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance.” According to Albert Einstein, arrogance and egotism are extremely harmful qualities to have. This exaggerated sense of one’s own importance and abilities, which should not be confused with confidence, can lead to one’s downfall as shown in the short story “The Cactus” by O. Henry, which is about a man named Trysdale who loses his lover due to his conceitedness and egotism. In the story, in order to protect his pride, Trysdale does not tell his lover that he actually does not know Spanish. This results in a lot of miscommunication, leading Trysdale to misunderstand the meaning behind the cactus she sends him as his response to his proposal. O. Henry uses symbolism, extended metaphor, and paradox to demonstrate that pride and arrogance are harmful and can lead to one’s downfall in various aspects of one’s life including relationships.
O. Henry uses the symbol of a cactus to show the negative consequences of one’s arrogance. A cactus often represents endurance and unconditional love. In the story, Trysdale receives a cactus from his beloved as a response to his marriage proposal with “no note, no message, merely a tag upon the plant bearing a barbarous foreign or botanical name” (O. Henry 2). At the end of the story, he finds out that the name on the tag, Ventomarme, actually means “Come and take me” (O. Henry 2). Although his lover has sent the cactus as a means to accept his proposal, because he does not tell her the truth about not knowing Spanish, he does not understand the name on the tag and assumes that she is rejecting him. He lies to her to protect his pride but in doing so, he is unable to understand her unconditional love which she tries to show him through the cactus. This demonstrates the negative consequences of Trysdale’s arrogance. Since he is too prideful to tell his lover the truth, he ends up losing her. Through this symbol, O. Henry demonstrates that although unconditional love, as represented by the cactus, is thought to be able to conquer everything, it does fail to overcome arrogance. Thus, the symbol of the cactus shows how one’s pride and arrogance can beat the good and lead to such negative outcomes.
Moreover, the author demonstrates the deadliness of one’s arrogance and conceitedness through an extended metaphor. At the beginning of the story, the author compares Trysdale to a “drowning man” as he reminisces about his past relationship (O. Henry 1). He maintains this metaphor throughout the story and Trysdale is continuously in this “drowning” state as he continues to reflect on his past relationship. It is not until he realizes the true meaning of the cactus that he finally passes away. In this extended metaphor, Trysdale’s arrogance and ego make him drown in his life, eventually leading him to his metaphorical demise when he realizes the meaning of the cactus. Although courtship is usually a positive and beautiful experience, the extended metaphor demonstrates how because Trysdale is too arrogant in his relationship, his courtship becomes deadly instead. This shows how his arrogance is deadly and leads to his eventual downfall as he loses his lover and “drowns.” Thus, the extended metaphor demonstrates how one’s arrogance and conceitedness lead to one’s downfall.
Finally, Henry uses a paradox to demonstrate how arrogance and pride can lead to unwanted outcomes. A paradox is when something seems to be a contradiction, but upon further analysis, it makes sense. Due to what he believes to be love, Trysdale feels resentment towards her lover since she is getting married to another man. As she walks down the aisle, he tells himself that “her paleness [is] from thoughts of another than the man to whom she [is] about to give herself” (O. Henry 1). Trysdale’s feelings of bitterness and irritation, instead of contentment, seem to make sense at first glance, especially when considering how he used to love her very much. However, the paradox demonstrates that if he truly loved her, he would be happy that she is happy. In reality, due to his arrogance and egotism, Trysdale simply loves the attention and love that his lover gives him and does not actually love her. He enjoys “the incense of her admiration [that] had been so sweet and flattering” (O. Henry 2). Trysdale may think that he loves her, but he is actually only filled with self-love, as he enjoys when she “places him upon a pedestal” (O. Henry 1). As he never truly loved her and only loved himself, he loses his lover as he believes that she would forever put him on that pedestal and always admire him. His arrogance and egotism cause him to lose his lover as he takes her love for granted. Thus, through this paradox, Henry demonstrates how one’s arrogance and egotism can unknowingly lead to unwanted outcomes.
By using symbolism, extended metaphor, and paradox, O. Henry demonstrates how egotism and arrogance are harmful and can lead to one’s downfall. Although Trysdale believes that he had a great relationship with his former lover; in reality, their relationship was very unhealthy due to his arrogance and ego. This eventually causes their relationship to completely fall apart. Arrogance is not only harmful to romantic relationships; it can also destroy a person, a team, or a business. This trait is extremely harmful and deadly as it is easy to acquire and hard to recognize. As Elvis Presley said, “If you let your head get too big, it’ll break your neck.”