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Proof of The Pudding Summary

Summary and Analysis of Proof of The Pudding by O. Henry

Proof of The Pudding by O. Henry is a short story that shows how two former friends, separated by the differences in their lifestyle and wealth run into each other only to have a clash in the opinions of their writing styles and later unite by their common tragedy. The story shows the themes of difference and poverty through the characters. 

 

 

 Proof of The Pudding | Summary

 Editor Westbrook has his lunch in his favorite corner of a broadway hotel. On his way, he is lured by a coquette and he turns eastward to the twenty-sixth street. He is sauntering between the rows of park benches and he feels someone holding his sleeve. He turns and sees it is Dawe, in a poor shabby-looking condition. Dawe is a fiction writer and one of his old acquaintances. At one time they were good old friends and Dawe lived in a decent apartment near Westbrook’s. The two families spent most of their time together and Mrs. Dawe and Mrs. Westbrook were inseparable. Dawe had to move away from Westbrook because he could not publish any work and had little money. Mr. Dawe tells Westbrook to sit on the bench and asks Westbrook to spare ten minutes for him. 

 Editor Westbrook has rejected a few of Mr. Dawe’s works earlier and now they discuss the reasons for Mr. Westbrook doing so. Mr. Dawe asks him why he doesn’t publish his work. Westbrook explains Mr. Dawe makes his characterizations well but he works with his climax as an artist and turns himself into a photographer. 

 Mr. Dawe states that people react ordinarily to tragedies and with a normal expression ”People in real life don’t fly into heroics and blank verse during emotional crises. They simply can’t do it. If they talk at all on such occasions they draw from the same vocabulary that they use every day, and muddle up their words and ideas a little more, that’s all.” to which Westbrook disagrees. He feels people are very expressive of sudden and deep tragedies that are powerful and stirring to the readers. 

 Dawe thinks of a plan to prove his theory to Westbrook. He plans to write a false note to his wife Louise telling her that he has fled “with an affinity who understands the needs of my artistic soul as she never did.” And he and Westbrook will hide in the house. When she reacts to the note they will observe her actions and words and they will decide whose theory is the correct one. It is 2:33 pm and Louise must be with her aunt and they have enough time to execute the plan. The editor doesn’t approve of the plan as he thinks it is inexcusably cruel to play with her feelings. He later yields to the plan but half willingly when Dawe convinces him that Louise is a strong woman with a heart strong as ninety-eight cent watch. 

 They arrive at the Gramercy neighborhood and reach one of the crumbling houses. Dawe pushes his latchkey into the door of one of the front flats. The editor looks at the poorly furnished house with pity. Dawe asks Westbrook to take a seat and is about to look for paper and pink, he finds a note left by Louise and assumes she might have written I in the morning before leaving the house.

 The note says Mrs. Dawe has left him to make a living on her own because she didn’t want to starve herself. She has run away with Mrs. Westbrook, who thinks of her husband as a “combination phonograph, iceberg, and dictionary”. They have been practicing the songs and dances for two months quietly and have decided to join the Occidental Opera co. 

 Dawe expresses his sorrow exaggeratedly when he says- 

 ”My God, why hast Thou has given me this cup to drink? Since she is false, then let Thy Heaven’s fairest gifts, faith, and love, become the jesting bywords of traitors and friends!” 

And Westbrook replies ordinarily- 

“Say, Shack, ain’t that a hell of a note? Wouldn’t that knock you off your perch, Shack? Ain’t it hell, now, Shack – ain’t it?” 

 

 Proof of The Pudding | Analysis

 O’ Henry is famous for his short genres filled with irony and, twists as his trademark which is evident in his story “Proof of the Pudding”. The whole story moves around the clash of opinions that occurs between two former friends, Dawe and Westbrook. They provide their different views on how a person should react to a sorrowful and tragic situation, but in the end, they react in opposite ways proving each other wrong. 

 Westbrook has lunch in his favorite place and strolls in the street toward his office peacefully on a spring day. He feels he is being panhandled when is pulled by someone from his sleeve and turns to see his old acquaintance whom he doesn’t recognize at first because of his shabby look. Dawe’s writing has been rejected by Westbrook many times and this time he asks Westbrook for an explanation. Westbrook tells him how his writing format isn’t impressive as after the climax he writes like a photographer. His characters do not react to tragedies eloquently. Dawe gets defensive with his theory but Westbrook is in no mood to argue. Dawe asks for ten minutes from Westbrook so that he can explain and prove his theory. Dawe feels a character ordinarily reacts to tragedies but Westbrook argues that a character should be more expressive when dealing with any sorrowful situation. 

Dawe finds a way to prove his theory so that he can convince Westbrook to publish his writing. He will test his theory on his wife by writing a letter to her that he has fled with another woman and they both will be watching her hidingly while she reacts to see how she reacts. Westbrook is hesitant as he thinks it is cruel to play with her feelings but Dawe assures him that she is a strong person and this theory will benefit both him and his wife. He needs a market to sell his stories. Westbrook is convinced. They go to Dawe’s house to write the note but Dawe notices a note already from his wife, Louise who informs her she has fled to live on her own and be financially independent by joining Orchestra. And Mrs. Westbrook has also fled with her as she was tired of Westbrook. They both react to the letter in the opposite ways they believed one should react. They prove each other wrong not through their argument but through someone else’s actions. 

 Dawe and Westbrook were very good friends who lived next to each other’s house. The two families often went to theatres and dinners together. Mrs. Dawe and Mrs. Westbrook were ”dearest” friends. But one day Dawe left the place because of his financial downfall and decided to write fiction for a living. He sold stories and submitted many to Westbrook and to the company where Westbrook is an editor. A few of his writings were sold and others were rejected. Westbrook sent personal letters with the rejected manuscripts explaining the reason for not considering his writing. And Mrs. Dawe tried to make food with the least she had. 

 The once good friends were separated by their financial and lifestyle differences but united by tragedy in the end. The author brings the twist at the end when he shows that their wives have fled leaving their husbands. Louise didn’t want to starve herself anymore, a make a living on her own, and Mrs. Westbrook was tired of Westbrook. The dearest friends Mrs. Dawe and Mrs. Westbrook get to live their life together by joining the Opera. And Dawe and Westbrook end up as guinea pigs in their experiment. Dawe believed the characters in writing always react ordinarily to their tragedies and Westbrook believed the opposite of it. Their conflict led Dawe to become adamant and greedy and desperate to publish his work and he tries to use his wife to prove his theory. He plots to write a false letter to his wife that he has fled with another woman and check her reaction by hiding in Dawe’s house. But their plan backfires as Dawe finds a letter already from his wife. Dawe reacts dramatically expressing his sorrow in an exaggerated manner which contrasts with his theory regarding people’s reactions to tragedies and Westbrook just ordinarily expresses his grief. 

 

 Proof of The Pudding | Themes

Poverty

 The story introduces the character Dawe readers with a shabby, dingy appearance. He is a fiction writer who was once good friends with Westbrook, the editor of Minerva. Dawe used to live in a decent apartment nearby Westbrook’s house. But one day he had to leave the place because of his financial troubles. He decides to make a living out of writing fiction and selling them now and then. He has submitted many of his writings to Westbrook. Minerva printed one or two of his stories and most of them were returned to him. One day he runs into Westbrook and argues his opinion regarding the characters’ reactions to tragedies. The idea of the story is how poverty makes a person desperate and lose self-esteem. Dawe never backs out to show his poverty to Westbrook/When Dawe tells Westbrook to sit on a bench he tells Westbrook-

 ”This is my office. I can’t come to yours, looking as I do. Oh, sit down you won’t be disgraced. Those half-plucked birds on the other benches will take you for a swell porch-climber. They won’t know you are only an editor.”

 When Dawe talks about Louise Westbrook invites him and Louise to dinner, he says ” You must bring Mrs. Dawe up some evening soon, and we’ll have one of those informal chafing-dish suppers that we used to enjoy so much.” Dawe replies ”Later when I get another shirt”.

 When both of them visit Dawe’s house Dawe tells Westbrook ”Get a chair, if you can find one, while I hunt up pen and ink.”

 He tries to prove his point about the characters’ reaction to tragedies as he is desperate to publish his works. He mentions how “it is important to me that my theory of true-to-life fiction be recognized as correct by the magazines. I’ve fought for it for three years, and I’m down to my last dollar, with two months’ rent due.” 

Dawe’s financial trouble is evident through his clothes, his lifestyle as well as his wife’s concerns- 

“Mrs. Dawe was mainly concerned about the constituents of the scanty dishes of food that she managed to scrape together. At dinner, they sat down to a dish that a hungry schoolboy could have encompassed at a gulp.” 

 

 Difference 

 Two former friends Westbrook and Shackleford Dawe were once neighbors, whose families spent most of their time together going to theatres and having dinner. Dawe faces financial issues and shifts to the Gramercy Park neighborhood where he decides to make his living out of writing and selling his stories. Westbrook is the editor of Minerva who has recently got a raise in his salary. They run into each other one day and are filled with a sense of awkwardness. Dawe looks unrecognizable with his shabby appearance and he is struggling to make money by selling his stories which are mostly rejected by Minerva as well as Westbrook. Their lifestyles throw light on their financial difference and a difference in their opinion is evident when they start discussing why Dawe’s writings are rejected. 

Dawe believes that a character expresses ordinarily any kind of tragic or sorrowful situation and he portrays so in his writings but Westbrook believes a character expresses in a dramatic, exaggerated way to tragedy. Dawe is desperate to publish his stories and plots to prove his theory by experimenting on his wife, Louise. Their differences lead them to become experimenters unaware of what is coming. They both face the same tragic situation and react opposite to what they believed should be a person’s reaction to sorrowful situations.

 

 Proof of The Pudding | Characters

 Westbrook is an editor of Minerva magazine who has recently got a raise in his salary. He has just installed in his home an imported cook who is afraid of policemen, and the morning papers have published the speech he has made at a publishers’ banquet. Westbrook is a prominent and established editor who is financially independent and has a good professional as well as personal life. He comes across his friend Dawe and through their conversation is clear that Westbrook is a wise and skilled man good at his job as he has a clear conception of what constitutes good fiction. 

He is kind as he writes a personal letter carefully every time Dawe’s manuscript is returned to him explaining his reasons for considering it unavailable. He sounds kind when he disagrees to involve in Dawe’s plot of experimentation as he feels it is cruel to play with her feelings but is later convinced half willingly as the publishing will help Dawe and his wife financially. He sympathizes with Dawe when he sees his house. He sticks to his opinion on how characters should react to tragedies but behaves the opposite when he finds out his wife has left him. 

 

 Shackleford Dawe is a former friend of Westbrook who lived next to Westbrook’s house. He had good money and a decent house. Dawe and Westbrook’s families spent most of their time together, they went to theatres and dinners. Mrs. Dawe and Mrs. Westbrook were dearest of friends. But Dawe’s financial crisis made him shift to a neighborhood place and the two friends became distant. Dawe now writes and sells his stories to make a living out of it. Minerva has published one or two of them and returned the rest. Dawe is desperate to find someone to sell his stories and he runs into Westbrook one day and questions him why his writings are rejected. He gets to the point of using his wife to prove his theory so that he can convince Westbrook to publish his writings. His plan to write a false letter to his wife and see her reaction backfires when he finds a letter left by his wife where she tells her that she has left him to make a living on her own. 

 

 Louise is Dawe’s wife. A woman who tries everything to feed herself and her husband and be loving to him. But later flees as she doesn’t want to starve herself and sets to make a living on her own. Mrs. Westbrook is Westbrook’s wife who gets tired of him and flees with Louise. 

 

 

 Proof of The Pudding | Literary Devices

 Irony is used in the story using the two main characters, Westbrook and Dawe who have different opinions on how a character reacts to tragedy. But when both of them face such a situation they react in opposite ways. 

 Westbrook believes that a character should be expressive in difficult and painful situations but Dawe believes a character should express ordinarily in tragic situations. Dawe is desperate to prove his theory as the publishing of his stories depends on convincing Westbrook. He plans to write a false letter to his wife that he has fled with another woman but when Dawe and Westbrook arrive to write the letter Dawe sees a note from his wife. Mrs. Dawe and Mrs. Westbrook have left their husband and fled to join Orchestra to live their life on their own. Their plan backfires and they both react in opposite ways to what they believed. Dawe reacts dramatically and eloquently and Westbrook reacts ordinarily. 

 

 Proof of The Pudding |Title

 As the proverb says “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” which means the real value of something is known from personal experiences and not from any theory. The story has a moral similar to the proverb and the title is accurate for the short story. Westbrook and Dawe have their individual opinions on how the character should react to a painful or sorrowful situation. Westbrook explains the reaction should be expressive and strong which should affect the reader and Dawe believes that a character ordinarily reacts to tragic situations. The former friends are adamant about their theories but react oppositely when they experience shocking and tragic situations. Their theories do not stand against their personal experience and hence prove them wrong. 

 

 Proof of The Pudding | About The Author

 William Sydney Porter pen named O’Henry was an American writer famous for his short stories. 

 He is a prominent writer who romanticizes the ordinary life of people in New York. His writings are filled with irony, wit, and a humorous tone with surprise twists as his trademark. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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