Transients in Arcadia | Summary and Analysis

Summary of Transients in Arcadia by O Henry

 O Henry’s short story “Transients in Arcadia” explores the hollow facades of the upper class as it tells the story of “Madame Héloise D’Arcy Beaumont.” and “Harold Farrington” and their interactions in “ a certain hotel in Broadway”


There is a certain hotel in Broadway, obscure yet grand that boasts “It has all the pleasures of mountain living, and none of the pains” with green trees and sweet winds the bustle of the city mellows down to sound like running water it can boast fresh meat like that of the mountains without the hassle of hunting fishing or cooking. But somehow the hotel is still unknown to the masses of “pleasure seekers” that will ruin the pristine aura of the place.

In this hotel a certain “Madame Héloise D’Arcy Beaumont” makes her presence known during summer, her elegance manners and sweet nature wins the hearts of the workers and guests alike, and the white dress she wears to the dinner is nothing short of indescribable. Rumors of her greatness start spreading around the hotel soon It was on such a day in the hotel that she meets Harold after she accidentally drops something while walking near his table, he picks it up for her and said some gentle words making her feel that he is a gentleman.

A sudden friendship grows between them as they talk to each other, exclaiming how hard it was to find a peaceful spot even among the mountains and beside the seas, they expose their fear of this hotel being found out and finally being overtaken by “ the pleasure seekers” that they all seem to dread. On their last day together, feeling a growing affection between them she tells him about her real identity, she reveals herself to be a working-class woman who worked as a sales girl in a clothes shop, and this one visit to this hotel is the result of her saving up from her small income to finally live like a “rich lady”, she wanted to wake up late and be served food by waiters for a week. She tells him how the dress she wears for dinner is the only one she owns, and even then it had a pending payment on it. She takes out a dollar bill and tells him that it is this one dollar that she will give to the dress makes tomorrow to complete her payment for the week. She tells him that her real name is Mamie Siviter. He takes the money from her, telling her how he too will go back to work the next day as he writes a slip for her.

He reveals his true identity, he was a clerk at O’Dowd and Levinsky the same company that she had gotten her dress made from. He tells her that that slip says that she has made the payment for the week. He too, like her saved up money to spend on a luxurious hotel once. He asks her out for a trip to the pleasure park on Coney Island on the next payday, which she gleefully accepts. And as she was going to her room for the last time, he tells her that his name is ”James McManus. Some call me Jimmy.” and they go their seperate ways but not before a last “Good night”.


The story revolves around the theme of illusion and reality, the entire hotel is built up to be a synthetic space in every aspect. Though buildings themselves, being man-made, is artificial, this hotel being a special case adds several layers n to it. There are various comparisons drawn throughout the introduction to drive home this fact.

Firstly, the supposed aim of the hotel is to provide an artificial space that can replace the ambiance of a secluded nature retreat or a camp. Even the materials used in the construction of the hotel allude to this fact. Its rooms and walls are made of dark wood perhaps in an attempt to simulate an old outhouse or vacation house in a forest, additionally, just like how a forest can be characterized by the flora of an area, the hotel is an obvious perversion of this, providing processed and mutilated trees instead of real live ones in nature. 

There is an area filled with trees and fresh air that tries to manufacture a small-scale forest-like space. “It has all the pleasures of mountain living, and none of the pains.” this idea is taken a bit further by using the comparison of food, “You will eat better fish than you could catch for yourself in streams in the hills. You will have better meat than a hunter brings home from the forest” adding onto the artificiality of the hotel.

One can also assume from the descriptions of the waiters, food, and the crowd that the food served here would be far from the simple cuisine of any trek or retreat in secluded forests. The hustle and bustle of the flowing traffic replace the sound of rivers and streams in the hotel. It is in such a space that the two main characters come in, each of them wearing their own masks and lies. Both of them have put on identities befitting this high-class environment, giving off the impression of being well-traveled and influential, in the case of Mamie, her character transcends into a legend due o the rumors – 

 “ It was said that she was a woman who had traveled all over the world. It was said that she knew the most important people everywhere. It was said that in her white hands, she held the future of certain nations.” 

These rumors also served to fan the vanity of the guest and workers, the guests being proud that their tastes would align with such important persons n and the workers because they work in a hotel where such people visit. The stories she tells Harold, Jimmy’s persona, are lies spun out of the many books and stories she had read. Though Jimmy and Mamie, probably chose the hotel because it is close to their workplaces and homes, they like the other guests tell each other that they chose it due to the exclusivity and privacy of the space.


The name of the text, “Transients in Arcadia”, is a name very apt for the story. The protagonists that we follow through the story are very much transient, as they are fictitious identities they have made for a week, and will cease to be as soon as they return back to their normal lives. Arcadia used to be a place in Greek antiquity and is now used to describe areas with sparse populations and abundant natural beauty. The word here is in reference to the hotel, with very few customers, that tries to capture the ambiance of a nature retreat, forest, or sea in an artificial space with some measure f success.


The story has a third-person limited omniscient narrator. The story also uses symbolism and irony as its chief literary devices. The hotel becomes the symbol of the artificiality of social conventions of class while also being a physical representation of the class system and the class divide. 

Clothes also function in the same role in the story, giving rise to many unfounded conclusions and appraisals of individuals, becoming not just the marker of class but also identity. 

The irony in the story comes mainly from two areas. The concept of an artificial space that is overflowing with man-made creations creating a ‘natural’ environment for the high class itself is ironic, there is also the situational irony of the identities of our protagonists that is revealed to us in the end.





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