Dream and Hope
For most people, the path to success is a rocky path with many hardships. To tread the path to success, one must not only have a dream but also cherish hope since it is only the hopeful dreamers who can ultimately capture the star of prosperity. In his short story “The Skylight Window,” O’Henry tells the story of a young woman who stays true to her dream despite her poor living conditions, and later, her loss of employment. Through the effective use of symbolism, situational irony, and imagery, O’Henry conveys the message that one should cling to one’s hopes and stay true to one’s dreams in the face of adversities.
To begin with, O’Henry uses symbolism to communicate the importance of having hopes and pursuing one’s dreams. The first example of symbolism in the short story is the skylight window itself. The window is used to represent hope as it is in a room with “four bare walls [that seem] to close in upon you like the sides of a coffin” (O’Henry 1). However, “the glass of the little skylight, [reveals] a square of blue infinity.” In the dark and claustrophobic skylight room, the window lets in light. The room represents the poor situation Miss Leeson is in, and the window lets in hope. Because of this hope, when Mr. Hoover, one of the better-off residents, proposes to her and gives her the opportunity to turn her life around, she is able to stay true to her dreams and reject him. Another symbol that O’Henry uses is the star that Miss Leeson names Billy Jackson. This star is used to represent her dreams. The real name of this star is Gamma; however, Miss Leeson refuses to call it by its real name. Even when dying of starvation, she acknowledges that the star is really “Gamma, of the constellation Cassiopeia, and not Billy Jackson; [However, she can] not let it be Gamma” (O’Henry 3). Despite her situation, Miss Leeson refuses to let go of her dreams, just like how she refuses to call Billy Jackson by its real name.
Another literary device O’Henry uses to convey the message that one should remain hopeful and continue to pursue one’s dreams is situational irony. In the short story, Miss Leeson is a struggling young woman who hopes to live a happy and wealthy life someday. However, she is far from her goal and when she loses her job, she is even further from it. Because of this, the reader would expect her to do something about her poor situation. For example, when the rich Mr. Hoover proposes to Miss Lesson, she is given the opportunity to change her life. Nevertheless, she “[smites ] him weakly in the face (O’Henry 2)” and turns him down. Although Miss Leeson can live a better life, she decides to follow her dream, instead. Even in her weakened state, she still refuses to give up her dreams and remains hopeful.
O’Henry also employs imagery to communicate his message that one should continue to pursue one’s dreams while remaining hopeful. O’Henry uses visual imagery to describe the room that Miss Leeson lives in as a room “iron cot, a washstand and a chair [and a] shelf [as] the dresser” (O’Henry 1). The description of this room shows how poor Miss Leeson’s living conditions are. He expands on her situation with tactile imagery saying that the room has “four bare walls [that seem] to close in upon you like the sides of a coffin” (O’Henry 1). A coffin is so tight and claustrophobic that the sides of it touch your body, leaving you with no room to move around. Using this tactile imagery, O’Henry suggests that the small and claustrophobic nature of the room restricts Miss Leeson and makes her feel as though she has no room to move. Miss Leeson’s living conditions would cause her to easily lose hope and decide to give up on her dreams. However, Miss Leeson is able to remain hopeful and remain true to her dreams.
Through his use of symbolism, situational irony, and imagery, O’Henry communicates that one should remain hopeful and stay true to one’s dreams. By portraying a character whose determination and commitment ultimately pays off, O’Henry is able to remind those that are facing adversities to not only remain hopeful but also stay committed to their dreams as the road to success is a rocky one.