Give a character sketch of the marshal in O. Henry’s short story ‘Hearts and Heads’.
As the author presents the character in the first paragraph of the story, the unnamed marshal is a ruffled, glum-faced person, heavily built and roughly dressed. This appearance apparently makes him less likable. So it is rather easy for someone to take him as the convict handcuffed with the marshal. Introducing such a character makes O. Henry’s job easy to convince the readers that he is the convict and to bring the twist at the end.
Now, having read the entire story, the readers know that the second man was not really the convict, but the marshal. It is only at the very last sentence of the story that we know his real identity when another passenger says “Say–did you ever know an officer to handcuff a prisoner to his right hand?” So, drawing a character sketch of the man won’t be possible if one doesn’t read till the end.
Now, to come to the real discussion about the marshal’s character traits, the man was compassionate to Mr. Easton, the actual criminal. He saved Easton twice from embarrassment. He did not even hesitate to tell a lie to the woman and to undermine himself by posing for a prisoner. This shows his humane nature and sympathy for others, even for a criminal. As a marshal people would normally think him to be rather harsh and strict, but the humanity he displayed to his prisoner makes him a unique and extraordinary character.
The marshal shows his great presence of mind and common sense by quickly choosing to tell a lie to Miss Fairchild when the situation is getting complicated. Again, when the woman insists that she too wants to live in the West, the marshal senses the embarrassment of Mr. Easton. Then he quickly suggests that he should get a smoke immediately and saves his prisoner again.
From the marshal’s use of words while talking to Miss Fairchild, we see him as a humble man and respectful to others, especially to the women.
So, to conclude, the character of the marshal has been presented as a good-natured man, humble and mature, helpful and sympathetic, with his physical and mental ability to act according to the situation.