June 30, 2011

Do something good for a whole lot of children

The Outlook for June 30, 1900 published the short story "Georgia's Ruling," written by a then-incarcerated O. Henry — whose real name was William Sydney Porter. The story focuses on a Land Survey Commissioner deciding on an important case (Henry himself had formerly work in a land surveyor's office). For generations, a tract of land belonged to a family which, over the years, became destitute and had to sell off acreage. A pair of "land-sharks" hope to acquire the land by claiming the original property was incorrectly measured.

The Commissioner, however, is a bit distracted. At the beginning of the story, O. Henry tells us the man has lost his wife and is left with a young daughter named Georgia. However, Georgia is sick. As she is dying, she tells her father:

"Papa, I wish I could do something good for a whole lot of children... I mean poor children who haven't homes, and aren't loved and cared for as I am.... If I shouldn't get well, I'll leave them you — not give you, but just lend you, for you must come to mamma and me when you die too. If you can find time, wouldn't you do something to help them, if I ask you, papa?"

In pursuing the case, the Commissioner realizes the land in question is idyllic, but populated with many families, including "flocks" of children — all of whom would be left homeless if the ruling is in favor of the land-sharks.

In completing his research before making his judgment, the Commissioner visits the cartographer who is working on a new map of the area. The shape of the river has changed since his last map and the Commissioner wants to see it. The cartographer seems embarrassed before handing over the map: the river and the landscape form the outline of Georgia's face. The Commissioner turned the land-sharks away, saving the land for its occupants. Like the Commissioner had promised his daughter, he had done "something good for the children," and his decision was nicknamed "Georgia's Ruling."

No comments:

Post a Comment