Lit Guides

A Ramble in Aphasia | Summary and Analysis

 Summary of A Ramble in Aphasia by O Henry

 ‘A Ramble in Aphasia’ is a short story about a man who suffers from aphasia that causes him memory loss because of overapplication to his profession. He later takes up a new identity and enjoys the glorious days in New York only to come across his past life again. 


 A Ramble in Aphasia | Summary

 A prominent attorney one morning parts with his wife for his work in the usual manner where she kisses him goodbye in her customary fashion- “the level kiss of domesticity flavored with Young Hyson”. He sets out of the house and an attack comes suddenly. For many weeks he worked on a famous railroad case and won the case. His friend and Physician, Dr.Volney had already warned him that if didn’t slacken up he would end up with a blood clot in his brain and aphasia, a case where a man loses his memory of his past and identity.

 He thinks about the conversation he had regarding his health with Dr. Volney as he walks to his work. 

The attorney wakes up from his long sleep on the seat of a day coach. He doesn’t remember anything regarding his identity. He looks in his pockets for his belongings and finds nothing except a 3,000 dollar bill. With such a large denomination he feels he must be someone important. 

 A gentleman takes half of his seat with a friendly nod and unfolds a newspaper. In the intervals of his reading period, they start a conversation. The attorney then feels he should introduce himself. The odor of drugs from his companion and a glance at the advertisement in the gentleman’s newspaper assist him to introduce himself as Edward Pinkhammer, a druggist from Cornopolis, Kansas. The gentleman accepts the identity and tells the attorney how he felt he is a druggist from the callous spot on his forefinger where the handle of the pestle rubs. And thinks the attorney is a delegate to the National Convention. While discussing the issues that will be presented at the convention, the gentleman notices an article in the newspaper and claims it is a false case of aphasia. The article shows a missing man who belongs to Denver. 

 The man is Elwyn C. Bellford, a prominent lawyer, who is mysteriously missing from his home for three days. He is a well-known citizen of the highest stand and has a large law practice. He is a rich domestic man, with a fine house who was deeply absorbed in an important railroad case and it is feared the overwork has affected his mind leading him to suffer from aphasia.

 The two men arrive in New York at ten at the night. The attorney checks into a hotel with the name “Edward Pinkhammer”. He is filled with a splendid feeling of unlimited freedom, of new possibilities as if born into the world. He feels as if he is free from shackles and he realizes he can start a whole new life through his learning and experiences. The next day he brings a trunk and clothing and lives life with the name Edward Pinkhammer. He goes out to the land of “frolicsome music, pretty girls, and grotesque, drolly extravagant parodies upon humankind.” And enjoys his new lifestyle. 

 One afternoon as he enters his hotel he is blocked by a stout man with a big nose and black mustache. The man greets him with familiarity calling him Mr. Bellford. The attorney coldly releases his hand and introduces himself as Edward Pinkhammer. The man stands stunned when the attorney leaves and later asks the hotel’s bellboy for a blank telegraph. 

 The attorney is annoyed after being bothered by the stranger and asks for his bill and bags to leave. He changes the hotel and shifts to an old-fashioned one on lower Fifth Avenue. 

 One afternoon he feels someone tug at his sleeves when he is picking his way to a table in a restaurant off Broadway. He hears the name Mr. Bellford and turns to see a beautiful woman. She accuses him of passing by and not noticing her and tells him they should shake hands after not seeing each other for fifteen years. He sits opposite her and tries to convince her that his name is Edward Pinkhammer, from Cornopolis, Kansas. The woman tells him that he hasn’t changed much and this shows they are familiar with each other. She tells him how she married a rich man after six months after his marriage. 

The attorney tells her repeatedly he has no memory of his past and doesn’t recognize her. But the woman thinks he is lying. They part their ways just after the woman asks him a question ”a thing I have wanted to know for many years – just from a woman’s curiosity, of course – have you ever dared since that night to touch, smell or look at white roses – at white roses wet with rain and dew?” and the attorney tells her again he cannot remember anything. She says goodbye with the name Mr. Bellford with her happy and sorrowful smiles when she steps into her carriage. 

 He attends the theatre that night. And when he returns to his hotel he finds a man magically appearing by his side. He asks the attorney to step aside so they can have a little conversation. They go to another room where he finds a lady and gentleman waiting. The gentleman calls him by the name Mr. Bellford and tells him how he warned about overworking and the woman sobs and hugs him tightly. He releases himself from her hold and tells her that she is mistaken. The gentleman leads her to the door and tells her to go to her room so that the two men can have a conversation. The gentleman tells him that his name is not Pinkhammer but Elwyn C. Bellford, one of the first lawyers in Denver suffering from an attack of aphasia which has caused him to forget his identity, the lady who has left the room is his wife and the gentleman introduces himself as Robert Volney, Doctor Volney, his close friend of twenty years and physician for fifteen years. Dr. Volney tells him that they found out about him from a telegram sent by Isadore Newman, a traveling man from Denver. 

 The attorney asks Volney if he will take up his case of aphasia and Volney assures him he will do everything he can. The attorney gets up from the couch and sees a vase of sprinkled and fragrant white roses. He throws them out of the window and sits again. He then addresses the doctor as “Bobby” and tells him the cure should happen suddenly as he is tired of it all and tells Volney to bring his wife from the other room. He kicks Volney on the shin and says

“But, oh, Doc……..good ol’ Doc….it was glorious.” 


 A Ramble in Aphasia | Analysis

 The first part of the story takes place in West Denver showing a man named Elwyn Billford, who leaves for his work with the customary kiss and goodbye from his wife named, Marian. Elwyn is one of the first lawyers of West Denver and a prominent domestic man with a family and a fine house. He mysteriously disappears from the place and his missing information is printed in the magazines. 

 Elwyn sleeps long in a coach and later arrives in New York. During his journey, he befriends a gentleman who has come to attend the druggist convention. Elwyn has suffered the attack of aphasia and has completely forgotten his identity. He takes his name from a newspaper advertisement and lives by that in New York. Elwyn feels he is reborn and free from shackles. There can be various assumptions about what he refers to as shackles. It might be that he got sick of his work or his family or entirely his life that he wanted to start new. He enjoys the glorious days in New York until a man from Denver blocks his way and enquires regarding his visit. 

Elwyn is annoyed by his questions and leaves the hotel at once. He shifts to a different hotel. His misery doesn’t end there. He is again called by his name by an attractive woman of thirty who claims to have been close to him fifteen years ago. Elwyn doesn’t recognize her and tells her he doesn’t remember anything related to his past. But the woman is insistent on his identity as Elwyn Billford even after his continuous refusal and bids him goodbye with a sorrowful and happy smile.

 When he returns room from the theatre he is escorted to a room where two people are waiting for him. His past that he had left behind visits him. His friend and physician, Dr. Volney, and his wife Marian have come to take him after getting a mail from the same person who enquired about Elwyn’s visit. Elwyn doesn’t recognize his friend or even his wife. He’s adamant about his name and identity and keeps telling them they have a misunderstanding. 

 He later gives in and asks the doctor to treat him and cure his case. Elwyn has forgotten, it is the doctor who first warned him of the illness. Elwyn paid no heed to him and laughed it off. But he was immersed in his work. And people in his place were also aware of the way he was. It is evident from the way the man in the hotel greets him

” Didn’t know anything could drag you away from that old book den of yours. Is Mrs. B. along or is this a little business run alone, eh?”

He might be popular for being extremely involved in his work. And the doctor again reminds Elwyn that his over-application to his profession has caused him the illness. Elwyn asks the doctor to help him but the question is if he wants to be cured. 

In New York where most of the story takes place, Elwyn seems very happy living the glorious life. A new identity, a new life, a new place to start a new journey. When he wakes up in the coach and doesn’t remember who he is, he doesn’t bother to think about his family, he just finds the bill and concludes he might be an important person. He adopts a name from a magazine article and gets along with it to check into a hotel and introduce himself to people. He is stubborn to identify himself as Edward Pinkhammer anywhere he meets someone he is or was familiar with. 

 The author doesn’t make it clear what part of Elwyn’s life in New York is the moment he has his memory but pretends to not remember anyone. 

The author creates suspense with Elwyn’s behavior regarding his friends or at least those whom he knows. He leaves the hotel at once when he sees the stout man from Denver ask the bell boy in the hotel for telegraph blanks. It isn’t clear what Elwyn refers to as shackles and what is he free from now. He denies recognizing the woman and tells her he remembers nothing of the past when she asks if he has” ever dared since that night to touch, smell or look at white roses – at white roses wet with rain and dew?”. But he throws the vase of white roses out of his hotel window while talking to his doctor.

 These questions make the reader wonder if it is completely aphasia or, just an attack and later he recovers from it but pretends to not recognize anyone as he is happy with the new life or if it is all his doing, from the beginning to just run away and start a new life. 


 A Ramble in Aphasia | Themes


 The author is popular for his surprising twists in his short genres. And this short story is full of them. In the short story, an attorney named Elwyn C. Bellford mysteriously disappears from his place. He is a prominent lawyer who lives a very domestic life, has a fine house, and is wealthy and popular in Denver being one of the first lawyers in the place. It is shown in the beginning how Elwyn is advised by his doctor to cut himself slack and take his work lightly or there is a chance he can suffer from aphasia. Elwyn had recently won a famous railroad case that put his day and night into. 

 He wakes up in a coach. The author doesn’t mention how Elwyn ends up there and leaves it to the readers. 

 He looks into his pocket and finds a 3000 dollar bill. He concludes he is someone important but doesn’t bother to think about his family. He just instantly picks a name taking a hint from the drug odor of his traveling companion and the article in a magazine. He doesn’t seem to be worried that he can’t remember who he is. This creates suspense for the readers. 

 Elwyn is happy with his new identity and uses it to check into a hotel. He is filled with a sense of freedom- 

“I felt pervade me a splendid, wild, intoxicating buoyancy – a sense of unlimited freedom, of newly attained possibilities. I was just born into the world. The old fetters – whatever they had been – were stricken from my hands and feet. The future lay before me a clear road such as an infant enters, and I could set out upon it equipped with a man’s learning and experience.”

 His loss of memory doesn’t bother him but he feels free with his new identity. But the author doesn’t mention Elwyn’s reason for happiness and the meaning of the shackles that he refers to. Elwyn immediately leaves the hotel when he is bothered by the stout man who belongs to Denver. Elwyn tells the woman he doesn’t remember his past when the woman asks if he can still tolerate the white roses but throws the vase of white roses out of the hotel room while talking to the doctor. He asks the doctor to heal him from aphasia as he is tired of it all but kicks the doctor in the shin telling him how glorious it all was. 


 A Ramble in Aphasia | Characters

 Elwyn C. Bellford is an attorney who lives in west Denver. He is one of the prominent lawyers who lives a very domestic life, has a fine house, and is always dedicated to his work and library. His life revolves around the courtroom, office, and home. His friend and physician, Doctor Volney is worried about him and that he might suffer from aphasia because of his over-application to his profession. Elwyn disappears one day mysteriously and he finds himself sleeping in a coach. He takes up a new identity and enjoys his life in New York. He is annoyed when he finds anyone familiar to him and tries to avoid them as he doesn’t remember any of his past. But is later found by his doctor and his wife through a telegram from one of their people. His character creates suspense throughout the story because it isn’t clear if he is pretending or if he is suffering from memory loss. 

 Isadore Newman is a stout man with a big nose and a black mustache. He is a traveling man from Denver who greets Elwyn with offensive familiarity and enquires about his visit to New York. He is the one who helps the doctor and Elwyn’s wife trace Elwyn. He writes a telegram to Denver informing them about Elwyn’s presence in New York. 

 Doctor Volney is a friend of Elwyn for twenty years and his physician for fifteen years. He advises Elwyn to take a rest from his work and not overindulge in his profession as it can affect his brain. He tells Elwyn about aphasia and the harm it can do to him. Doctor Volney later goes with Elwyn’s wife to the hotel in New York where Elwyn is staying. He calmly explains to Elwyn that Elwyn has suffered from aphasia and that he is not Pinkhammer which he insists on. Volney eventually convinces Elwyn to go back to Denver with them and promises to cure him. 


 A Ramble in Aphasia | Literary Devices

 Imagery is used in the story when Elwyn books the hotel. “The old fetters – whatever they had been – were stricken from my hands and feet.” 

 He gets a splendid feeling of freedom and fresh air of a new identity when he checks into the hotel with his new identity. 


 A Ramble in Aphasia | Title

 The short story revolves around the idea of a serious disease, aphasia. A prominent lawyer named Elwyn C. Bellford is always devoted to his profession and is warned by his friend-cum-physician, Dr. Volney that he might suffer from aphasia, a disease that clots the brain and causes the loss of memory and identity. Elwyn disappears one day and the author hints that he has suffered an attack of aphasia but creates suspense if he suffering or pretending to. The writer shows that aphasia causes Elwyn to forget his past, reach New York, and start a new life. The disease kickstarts the story but it leaves the readers to wonder which part of Elwyn’s life in New York is a lie. 





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