What Is the Theme of the Short Story "From the Cabby's Seat"?
Published in 1906, O. Henry’s short story “From the Cabby’s Seat” tells about an evening of a horse-drawn-taxi driver, Jerry. After a wedding, Jerry drunkenly picks up a young woman, whom he then drives around town. When he discovers that the young woman doesn’t have enough money to pay for the fare, Jerry takes her to the police station to turn her in. In the station, Jerry sobers up, and reveals a surprise about the woman's identity. A simple story, “From the Cabby’s Seat” explores the literary theme of perspective.
Because he is the protagonist of the short story, Jerry’s perspective on the world directs the reader’s perspective. In this way, the reader assumes the young lady is just another fare -- and not Jerry’s wife. When Jerry discovers the woman has no money to pay for her trip, the reader shares in his anger. Similarly, the world of the short story transforms from a cityscape filled with different people into a world of potential fares for Jerry. In a sense, the story directs the reader to see things from Jerry’s perspective.
As the opening line suggests, “The cabby has his own special place from which he looks at life.” That place, both literally and figuratively, is from the cabby’s seat. From this position, Jerry “looks down upon everybody” and his view of people is “simpler.” They are other potential fares, or they are not. In this way, O. Henry defines the perspective of Jerry, giving him a cookie-cutter framework into which he can fit everyone on the street.
Though Jerry’s way of looking at life is certainly beneficial in the cab driving business, it is not without downsides. After all, it is his narrow definition of people as potential fares or not potential fares that causes Jerry to forget that the young woman he picks up at the beginning of the story is in fact his wife. The flip side of a defining perspective is a limiting perspective. Both Jerry and readers adopt his fare-or-not view, so their perspectives on the world are severely limited.
Ultimately, the story concludes with Jerry’s sudden, sobering realization that the woman he had been driving around was his wife. In these final moments, both Jerry’s and the readers’ perspective is expanded through a classic plot twist. The readers don’t just learn the truth about Jerry and the young woman, they also learn that such surprising twists are possible. Consequently, the readers’ perspective is expanded to include not just the truth that the young woman is Jerry’s new bride, but also the lesson that a directed perspective that defines and limits how you see the world can cause you to miss out on extremely important details.
Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.