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Are you studying short stories with your class? O. Henry’s corpus offers many wonderful texts to choose from. This lesson provides a series of discussion questions that will help your students appreciate the story ~’Hearts and Hands~’.

Reading ‘Hearts and Hands’

Whether you’re trying to get your students to understand the concept of the twist ending, appreciate short stories overall, or learn more about the works of O.

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Henry, ‘Hearts and Hands’ can be a wonderful tale to focus on. This story tells of two old friends who meet each other on a train, and seem to reconnect after many years apart. Only at the end does the woman, Miss Fairchild, figure out that her old friend is actually heading to prison for counterfeiting.

By talking about ‘Hearts and Hands,’ your students will have a chance to work through themes like friendship, deception, and criminality. They will also gain more insight into the story’s characters and O. Henry’s remarkable craft. The discussion questions in this lesson will guide your students in talking about the story together.

Questions About Characters

Here, you will find questions designed to help students make sense of the different characters in the story.

  • What do you think of Miss Fairchild as a character? What personality traits stand out the most about her, and what seems to motivate most of her interests and behavior?
  • What seem to be Mr.

    Easton’s most salient character traits, and why?

  • What is the historical nature of the relationship between Miss Fairchild and Mr. Easton? Describe how the two characters know each other and why it has been so long since they have seen each other.
  • What stands out to you over the course of the story about how the characters talk to one another? What, if any, clues do you find in their conversation to indicate that maybe things are not what they seem?
  • Talk about the behavior of the man who is handcuffed to Mr. Easton. How would you describe him as a character? What stands out most about him?
  • What is the role of the minor characters in this story, primarily the other passengers on the train? How do they contribute to the plot, and what do we learn from and about them?
  • How are Miss Fairchild and Mr.

    Easton similar to and different from each other? How does your opinion about this question change as the story unfolds?

  • What do you think leads Miss Fairchild to be naive about her friend? How does this impact your own opinion about her?

Questions About Plot

These questions will help your students work through the story’s intricate plot together.

  • What is the relationship between the setting and the plot of this story? Why do you think it might be relevant to have the story take place on the train?
  • What is counterfeiting? What role does the concept of counterfeit play in the plot of this story?
  • What do you see as the most important problems or conflicts that drive the plot of this story overall, and how do they get addressed or resolved?
  • Once you get to the ending of the story, describe whether or not you saw this twist coming and why. How does it make you feel as a reader?
  • What other stories does this one remind you of on the level of plot, and why? How does making this connection help you better understand this story?

Questions About Themes

Finally, this section offers questions oriented toward helping students make sense of the themes in the story.

  • What do you see as the most salient theme in this story, and why? What seems to be O.

    Henry’s opinion about this theme? Do you agree or disagree, and why?

  • What does this story seem to be saying about friendship, and what do you think about this message?
  • Discuss the theme of deception in this story. What do you think the story has to say about deception, and what is your reaction to the way this theme is addressed?
  • What use does O. Henry make of symbolism in this story? Talk about a few different symbols you can identify and how these symbols help you understand the themes and messages of the tale.
  • How do the thematic undertones of this story relate to themes in other O. Henry stories you have read?

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