Conceptual Dyad “Wealth – Poverty” As Reflection Of Idiostyle Of O.Henry


The article is devoted to the study of features of the conceptual dyad “wealth – poverty” in works of American writer O. Henry at conceptual, figurative and value levels. The revealed conceptual dyad is considered by the authors as a complex mental formation in a concentrated form representing a system of values and the specifics of the world view of the writer. It is suggested that one of the most promising directions in linguoconceptology is the description and study of individual concepts of an author, the content of which reveals numerous semantic expansion. One of the means of implementation of individual concepts of an author can serve as keywords that reveal the main content of works. The basic status of the considered conceptual dyad has been established. The criteria for the definition of key individual concepts were suggested: the subject of stories, development of scenes in them, and the symbolic interpretation of this concept by the author and readers, the semantic significance of the content of stories, etc. The authors of the article illustrated the specificity of the concepts “wealth - poverty”, conceptual values postulated by the writer, ways of verbalizing these concepts in his works - designation and expression. It was established that in the considered conceptual dyad in the individual consciousness of O. Henry, the figurative manifestations of wealth and poverty were specified and their value associations were defined: wealth and poverty as a test for man, opposing spiritual and material wealth.

Keywords: Linguoculturologyindividual conceptsliteraryethno-cultural specificity


The study of the conceptual dyad “wealth-poverty”, objectified in the works of famous American writer O. Henry, was performed in the linguo-cultural paradigm. The works of a writer is a significant layer of any linguacultural. The conceptual values postulated by the writer and shared by the community, present the markers of the level of development of national culture. Through the prism of individual - creative worldview of the writer, the national - specific picture of the world, characteristic of the represented linguistic society (in this case, for American culture of the beginning of the 20th century) can be also perceived.

The relevance of this article is reasoned by the controversial approach to the issue of the relation of collective and individually authored concept spheres, an increase in the attention of modern science towards literary text as a phenomenon with ethno-cultural and individual specifics, the importance of a “new” reading of works, possible and productive through the use of achievements of modern scientific trends, forming a broad philological context and an anthropocentric focus of research.

The conceptual “wealth - poverty” dyad is included in the group of key concepts of the stories of O. Henry, which are interrelated and in their totality reflect the main guidelines of the writer, express his value priorities, and represent individually authored understanding of the key topics of the works. Our approach to key concepts in an literary text is that we consider the grounds for identifying key concepts such as 1) the topic of appropriate literary texts 2) the development of scenarios 3) the symbolic understanding of these concepts by the author and his readers.

Problem Statement

The work is based on the following hypothesis: in the stories of O. Henry, it is possible to select a set of key concepts that exist in main topics of his works; these individually authored concepts correlate with the corresponding concepts of American linguistic culture, refining them.

Individually authored concept in relation to the cultural concept is presented as individual to universal and as a part to the whole. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that individually authored concept is always a figurative, specific, emotionally saturated, explicit or implicit reflection of the experience of a particular person, refracted through the prism of his emotional - psychological characteristics (Karasik, 2012). However, the questions of the relation between collective and individual concept sphere are also relevant from the point of view of cognitive science and conceptology. The symbiosis of various scientific approaches in conducting scientific research provides productive material for analysis (Slyshkin, 2000).

Research Questions

A literary text as a phenomenon repeatedly encoded by a natural language system and its aesthetic functions suggests the expansion of the research context in many areas, structured within the global problem of generating and understanding text as a complex semantic whole (Fairclough, 1992).

The conceptual values postulated by a writer and shared by community present the markers of the level of development of national culture. Through the prism of individual-creative worldview of a writer, we also perceive the national-specific picture of the world characteristic of the represented linguistic society (Ashikhmanova, 2009).

Another important factor of this study is associated with the tendency to form a single global cultural space, with the desire for a certain universalization (Mandzhieva, 2013).

According to many researchers, in modern Russian linguistic conceptology there is an increased interest in the study of individually - authored concepts that have a number of bright associative - figurative signs; their contextual realization allows expressing the value reference points of an author, figuratively conveying his sense of the epoch to a reader (Vystropova, 2012; Litvinova, 2009). For example, N.A. Krasavsky connects this tendency with the fact that at the present stage of development of linguoconceptology individually authored concepts, being on the periphery of research practice in the past, are becoming the focus of research attention of scientists, which, according to the researcher, is due to a limited list of cultural values defining its obligatory attribute (Krasavsky, 2013; Krasavsky, 2015).

In a literary text, the key word by which the understanding and disclosure of the main content of the work is realized (Vezhbitskaya, 2001) can serve as a means of realization of an individual authored concept. Keywords in literary text are a kind of carriers of conceptual content of works (Emelyanova, 2014). This layer of vocabulary, representing itself individually authored vision of the world, being a kind of markers of authorial intentions, has a special conceptual significance (Klebanov, 2005).

The concepts that exist in human consciousness express an individual attitude to the world. The linguistic personality of a writer, considered through the prism of conceptual ideas, reveals a direct connection and dependence with the culture of a given society. At the same time, concepts represented in the texts of works are refracted through the prism of the worldview of an author, obtaining a specific, individual perspective (Karasik, 1996).

The designation and expression are the main ways of concept verbalization. According to V.I. Karasik, a designation is the assignment of a special sign to a specific fragment of reality, while the entire set of linguistic and non-linguistic means that directly or indirectly illustrate, clarify and develop its content constitutes an expression of the concept (Karasik, 2012).

The key individually authored concept is a mental education, in a concentrated form expressing the system of values and the specifics of the worldview of an author, distinguished on the basis of the subject of the respective works, the development of scenarios in them, the symbolic understanding of these concepts by an author and his readers (Mandzhieva & Halgaeva, 2016). In the interpretation of N. A. Krasavsky, these concepts, revealed in the mind of an individual writer, express his basic guidelines (Krasavsky, 2014).

In the works of O. Henry, America is represented at the beginning of the 20th century. The writer depicted various segments of population, provided an extensive list of types, characters, and persons. With the help of satire and humor in its entirety, the serious problems of the American reality are revealed: social and political system, unemployment, social inequality (Kramer, 1954).

Individually authored concepts in the works of O. Henry have a binary evaluation characteristic, which manifests itself in dyads. A dyad is a manifestation of the dialectic of cognoscible world. Those concepts that we define as key ones for O. Henry contain an internal contradiction. Probably, the principle of conflict as the basis of a literary text correlates with the internal antinomy of key concepts.

The analysis of thesauri and synonymous dictionaries allowed establishing the following conceptual features of the conceptual dyad “wealth - poverty” (Merriam-Webster, 1993, Roget, 1979), which clarify the content: 4) prosperity, 5) majesty, 6) productivity, 7) prosperity, 8) brightness, 9) liveliness, 10) fertility, 11) juiciness, 12) nutritional value, 13) value, 14) saturation. Poverty - (1) lack of necessary means for existence, 2) lack of ordinary life comforts, 3) limitations, 4) modesty, 5) poorness, 6) humility, 7) inexperience, poor understanding of something 8) regret.

The figurative characteristics of the considered conceptual dyad boil down to the following conclusions: Wealth - 1) makes it possible to satisfy needs and desires; 2) may manifest as a luxury; 3) is associated with wastefulness; 4) emphasizes the privileged position of a person in society; 5) attractive; 6) is associated with glory; 7) emphasizes the inequality of people; 8) makes rich people indifferent; 9) makes rich people tend to limit the circle of communication. Poverty - 1) makes it impossible to maintain normal living conditions; 2) may turn into poorness; 3) is accompanied by despair; 4) is associated with suffering; 5) pushes people to crimes; 6) emphasizes the inequality of people, 7) is associated with grief; 8) makes poor people occupy the lowest unit of society.

The value characteristics of the analyzed dyad are recorded in proverbs (Apperson, 1993). Wealth - 1) makes life easier: Rich men may have what they will; 2) non-permanent: Riches have wings; 3) can be a heavy burden: Riches bring care and fears; 4) can spoil a person: Money is the root of all evil; 5) emphasizes the status of a person: Money makes the man; 6) the desire for wealth has no limits: Riches rather enlarge than satisfy appetites. Proverb units of the English language allowed identifying the ideas related to the concept of “poverty”. Poverty - 1) makes life difficult: Need must when the devil drives; 2) is a consequence of human defects: Idleness is the key of beggary; 3) leads to bad consequences: Poverty is the mother of crime; 4) allows a person to see the true attitude towards him: When you come out of the window; 5) should not be ashamed of poverty: Poverty is no sin; 6) poverty has its merits: Better starve free than be a fat slave.

Aphoristic sentences in American linguistic culture allowed more deep demonstrating of the essence of the investigated concepts (Cohen, 1975):

1) poverty pushes people to commit unseemly deeds: “Poverty often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue; it is hard for an empty bag to stand upright ”(B. Franklin);

2) poverty is associated with death: “There is something about poverty that smells like death” (Z. N. Hurston);

3) poverty leads a person to meaningless existence: “Love and business and family and religion and art and patriotism are nothing but shadows of words when a man's starving”;

4) leisure life is the source of life in need: “Laziness travels so slowly that poverty soon overtakes him” (B. Franklin);

5) the increase of wealth leads to an increase in problems: “He who multiplies riches multiplies cares” (B. Franklin);

6) the equal ratio of rich and poor people is unacceptable: “If all men were rich, all men would be poor” (M. Twain).

Let us illustrate several examples of the specifics of the author of the conceptual dyad:

One of the episodes of the life of a fairly wealthy man, Mr. Blinker, is presented in the following context of the story “Brickdust Row”. After the exhausting procedure of signing daily documents, he goes to one of his clubs with the intention of having dinner there. The use of antithesis by the writer in complex with the oxymoron (grave politeness - savage contempt) indicates a contemptuous attitude of visitors to the character described. The necessary obligations of a rich person, presented to him by a kind of burden, are underlined by a comparison:

In the evening Blinker went to one of his clubs, intending to dine. Nobody was there except some old fogies playing whist who spoke to him with grave politeness and glared at him with savage contempt. Everybody was out of town. (Henry, 1995).

The irony of O. Henry is considered one of the permanent elements of the narrative. In the analyzed example, the degree of wealth is graded: from a modest worker to a financially successful person. Varying in the context of similar words that explicate the stages of wealth leads to their expressive and ironic use:

I want you to consider Jacob Spraggins, Esq., after he had arrived at the seventh stage of his career. The stages meant are, first - humble origin; second, deserved promotion; third, stockholder; fourth, capitalist; fifth, trust magnate; sixth, rich malefactor; seventh, caliph; eight - X. The eighth stage shall be left to the higher mathematics (Henry, 1995).

The hardships and misfortunes of the poor are fun for rich people. In the story “The halberdier of the little Rheinschloss” the main character is shown through the situation, speech, actions. Having settled down as a halberdier in a restaurant, he was forced to stand in heavy chain mail to attract visitors - this was one of the whims of the owner. The monologue of the hero, uttered with all the importance, is a sarcastic sarcasm towards rich people. The opposition of contextual antonyms (rich - poor, humble; luxury - misfortune) is a vivid source of speech expression: “The restless rich”, - says he, “never content with their luxuries, always prowling among the haunts of the poor and humble, amusing themselves with their misfortunes” (Henry, 1995).

In the story “While the Auto Waits” the ironic image is achieved as a result of an implicitly pronounced assessment of the main character. The cashier girl pretends to be a rich lady and in a condescending tone talks about her life among the elite of society. The ironic image is updated as a result of the perception of a reader, formed through the semantics of lexical units filled with expressive, emotional and evaluative connotations (gesture of despair, monotony, drives me mad, superfluous wealth): “A competence is to be desired. But when you have so many millions that -” She concluded the sentence with a gesture of despair. “It is the monotony of it,” she continued, "that palls. Drives, dinners, theatres, balls, suppers, with the gilding of superfluous wealth over it all. Sometimes the very tinkle of the ice in my champagne glass nearly drives me mad” (Henry, 1995).

The story “The Duel” is about two friends who arrived in New York in search of happiness. Four years later, the heroes met to share their impressions. Attention is drawn to the careful selection of lexical units that determine the negative attitude of heroes towards New York. Synonymous convergence of words carries an additional meaning. With the help of metaphorical impersonation (leech, juggernaut), the writer creates an expressive picture of the city, asserting its power to visitors, denying all values and virtues. The opinion of researchers is confirmed that O. Henry often operates with images and analogies from mythology and the Bible (Moloch, leviathan), which gives his narration a high intellectuality. Individually authored reflection is manifested through an oxymoron, which performs a contextual function. Lexical units (millionaires, great men, skyscrapers, pleasures) lose their basic meaning under the influence of the epithets used in the form of a superlative degree:

“This town,” said he “is a leech. It drains the blood of the country. Whoever comes to it accepts a challenge to a duel. Abandoning the figure of the leech, it is a juggernaut, a Moloch, a monster to which the innocence, the genius, and the beauty of the land must pay tribute. Hand to hand every newcomer must struggle with the leviathan. …It has the poorest millionaires, the littlest great men, the lowest skyscrapers, the dolefulest pleasures of any town I ever saw” (Henry, 1995).

In the following example, a writer with a bit of irony describes the wardrobe of the clerk of Towers Chandler, emphasizing the modest living of poor people. The title of the story “Lost on Dress Parade” defines its ideological content. The main character, saving one dollar every week, at the end of every tenth week, put on the mask of a wealthy gentleman and spent the evening at his pleasure. The use of epithets in the description of the content of the concept of “poverty” gives the narrative an emotional coloring, expressiveness, emphasizes individually authored vision of the situation in question: ... Eyes bright, sinister, curious, admiring, provocative, all-the-best (Henry, 1995). The remainder may be guessed by those whose genteel poverty has driven to ignoble expedient -. … Eyes bright, sinister, curious, admiring, provocative, alluring were bent upon him, for his garb and air proclaimed him a devotee to the hour of solace and pleasure (Henry, 1995).

The poor man is a loser who, in the conditions of a predatory state, does not stand up and finds himself at the bottom. In the following fragment from the story “According to Their Lights,” contextual text organization is created. Lexemes with usual evaluations (poor, hungry, out of luck) contribute to the effect of self-irony: “Kind sir, could you spare a poor, hungry man, out of luck, a little to eat?” (Henry, 1995)

The following analyzed example proves the wide use of epithets in the stories of O. Henry. The main heroine Octavia, having lost her capital, finds herself in a deplorable situation. Future in poverty is unthinkable for her. Emotionally-colored vocabulary consists of adjectives, the prevalence of which can be explained by the desire of a writer to present the described situation in more detail: “You are good auntie, it’s not a case of bonbons; it is abject, staring, unpicturesque poverty, making sure you’ve made up clothes, gasoline, gloves, gloves, gloves and gloves for your child.”(O. Henry, 1995)

The linguistic embodiment of the analyzed conceptual dyad was also revealed by us with the help of associative - semantic fields. Examples from the works of O. Henry revealed the following number of associations:

1) Wealth - attention - honor. A kind of verbal representation of the relation to wealth in the story of O. Henry determines the conscious choice of language means by the author to influence a reader - an excellent degree of adjectives, increasing the degree of pleasure (the fairest, the highest, the wisest), highly pragmatic lexical units (flattery, esteem, credit, pleasure, fame, the honey of life): The social world, the world of art, the fellowship of the elect, adulation, imitation, the homage of the fairest, honors from the highest, praise from the wisest, flattery, esteem, credit, pleasure, fame - all the honey of life was waiting in the comb in the life of the world for him (Henry, 1995);

2) Wealth is a burden. The wealth in this example takes on contextual meaning, expressed through the point of view of the hero, who with a condescending tone embellishes the burden of the worries entrusted to his fate: “Oh, the hardships of the rich! I don't see,” said Blinker, “why I should be always signing confounded papers. I am packed, and was to have left for the North Woods this morning. Now I must wait until to-morrow morning” (Henry, 1995);

3) Wealth is greed. The conceptual sign of wealth in the analyzed example is explicitly expressed in the semantics of colloquialism (go on a spree, highballs, woozy), forming the context: “Aunt Maggie had had a sudden attack of the hedges. I guess everybody has got to go on a spree once in their life. A man spends his on highballs, and a woman gets woozy on clothes. But with forty million dollars - say, I’d like to have a picture of” (Henry, 1995);

4) Wealth is a need, satisfaction of desires. In the following context, the content components of the “wealth” concept can be traced: mansions, gold, carriages, jewelry, works of art, real estate. Comparison with the image from mythology (Croesus - the legendary king of Lydia in Asia Minor) emphasizes the status of the owner of a very wealthy person: It was a diverting thought to him that he was wealthy enough to buy every one of those close-ranged, bulky, window-lit mansions that faced him, if he chose. He could have matched gold, equipages, jewels, art treasures, estates and acres with any Croesus, and scarcely have entered upon the bulk of his holdings (Henry, 1995).

Associative lines related to poverty are as follows:

1) Poverty is darkness and fear. Comparative turnovers (like the coal of mine, like the sides of a coffin) in this context force the situation and carry a gloomy tone of the narrative, set up the reader in a certain way: At night my room is like the shaft of a coal-mine. Its four bare walls seemed to close in upon you like the sides of a coffin (Henry, 1995);

2) Poverty is desire and longing. In the following context, by using the semantic peculiarity of lexical units (ladies of the full purse and varied wardrobe, to live with a perpetual longing for pretty things, to starve eight months), the negative attitude of the author to the ideals of bourgeois society is manifested: hoarding, wastefulness: I say you do not understand it, ladies of the full purse and varied wardrobe. You don’t know what it is to live with a perpetual longing for pretty things - to starve eight months in order to bring a purple dress and a holiday together (Henry, 1995);

3) Poverty is monotony and hope.

In the story “The Brief Debut of Tildy” the heading is presented in an ironic manner, as it does not correspond to the content of the story: a drunken visitor mistakenly kissed the little ordinary waitress Tildy. Such an act cannot be called a triumph. The girl was deceived in their expectations to get a fan. In the presented passage, the feelings of the heroine are paraphrased by means of contextual antonyms in the form of metaphors (the towers of Romance - the horizon of the grey plain), expressing the occasional character: And Tildy’s heart swelled in her bosom, for she saw at last the towers of Romance rise above the horizon of the grey plain in which she had for so long traveled (Henry, 1995);

4) Poverty is hunger and risk. The hyperbole used by the writer in the analyzed example makes a double impression: on the one hand, it creates a comic effect, expresses the emotional state of the hero, and helps in more detail to consider the semantic content of the concept of “poverty”; on the other hand, it exposes the position of the hero who occupies the lowest cell of society, evoking feelings such as pity, compassion for him: I’d marry the Empress of China for one bowl of chop suey. I’d commit murder for a plate of beef stew. I’d steel a wafer from a waif (Henry, 1995).

The augmentations of meaning made by the author within the framework of the implementation of investigated conceptual dyad with the refinement of the concept of “poverty” are reduced to the following additional features:

1) poverty has its own smell associated with stagnation and chilliness: : «… the breath of the house - a dank savour rather than a smell - a cold, musty effluvium as from underground vaults mingled with the reeking exhalations of linoleum and mildewed and rotten woodwork», «…in its place was the old, stale odour of mouldy house furniture, of atmosphere in strange», «…that cold, dank, furnished draught of air that hurried by her to escape immurement in the furnished house»;

2) a special place in the novels of O. Henry is occupied by New York - “the city of decent poverty” and “the city of hungry despair”. We singled it out as one of the conceptual signs of the lexeme “poverty” in the novels of O. Henry, since it is in this city that most of the heroes live, “a cry of agony and fear” is associated with them, dull and the monotonous life of the heroes (a very dull life), it is there that they get a miserable payment, which is also cut by fines, which increase the incomes of the owner (an insufficient wages, further reduced by fines that go to swell the store’s profits).

Thus, the conceptualization of the concepts of “wealth - poverty” finds expression in the language of O. Henry through numerous lexemes, which are associative - related augmentations of meaning in the texts of the writer.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the research is to describe the conceptual, figurative, value characteristics of the conceptual dyad “wealth - poverty”, realized in the stories of O. Henry; to reveal the semantic augmentations made by the author in their correlation with the generally accepted interpretations of these concepts characteristic of American linguistic culture.

Research Methods

In our study, the interpretation of language data takes into account the content of the conceptual analysis of the text. At the initial stage, the pretext supposition is investigated, in other words, the extra linguistic data that influenced the formation of the concept-sphere of the writer. Next, a lexicographic method of analysis is carried out, which includes the selection and classification of keywords, their stylistic synonyms with varying degrees of expressiveness, representing various characteristics of investigated concepts in separate contexts. At the next stage, a generalization of all contexts takes place in which keywords are used - the essential elements of the concept structure, the semantic carriers of the conceptual content of the text. Then the structural components of the concept representation in the text are analyzed – the comparison of the position of the author with dictionary interpretations in order to identify their common and specific features. Throughout the analysis, the compatibility of keywords, the associative - figurative edges of the concept, their explicit and implicit functioning should be taken into account. The obtained information allows forming a specific vision of the author in the space of the text and, therefore, modelling structural elements of the conceptual sphere of the author.


The conceptual characteristics of the investigated conceptual dyad determine its most significant relevant features. The definition of concepts in general and individually authored interpretation largely coincides. Conceptual differences are explained by those dominant features that determine the specificity of the priorities of O. Henry. The value characteristics of the analyzed dyad are presented in proverbs, aphoristic judgments and generally coincide with the conceptual component of the concepts. Such characteristics are included in the value system of the writer, determining his personal worldview, the uniqueness of individual consciousness. O. Henry has a clear value system – to make a sacrifice of something for the good of loved ones.

The figurative characteristics of this conceptual dyad are more saturated. Complementing the conceptual and value features, they clarify the representation of concepts in literary text. The figurative component of these concepts actualizes the personal qualities of the heroes, situational signs, the actions shown, and relationships. It was revealed that among the heroes of O. Henry there are few bad actors; poor, disadvantaged, sometimes stupid people prevail. Poverty as a life adversity, a painful experience is compared with wealth as a test of moral verification of endurance and reliability. The opposition of spiritual and material wealth is emphasized.


The analysis of the language embodiment of the conceptual dyad “wealth - poverty” in the works of O. Henry revealed the individual techniques of the authored representation of the concepts. The most common of them are authored comparisons, metaphorical impersonations, antithesis, oxymoron, hyperbole, involved in the realization of an ironic rethinking of the situation, giving the narration an emotional - evaluative connotation. The most common method of accentuation of the investigated concepts is the irony of the author. The ironic rethinking of the narrative is achieved by semantic updating of lexical units, incompatibility of the plan of expression with the plan of content, violation of the generally accepted lexical content of set phrases. The actualization of irony occurs during the identification of not only explicitly expressed information, but also at the level of subtext, which allows a deeper understanding of the ideological content of the work. Mixing lexical layers in one context helps to create a humorous effect. The use of the images from the mythology and the Bible helps a reader to form a more complete picture of the situation. Such features as detailing, emotional evaluation, the remarks of the author, high visual quality, penetrating all levels of individual style of O. Henry deserve due attention.

The specific objectification of the concepts “wealth / poverty” in the works of O. Henry expands due to associative - semantic fields and in the context acquires a complex of additional meanings enriched by the implication of the author. Poverty acquires a smell, poverty is associated with a huge city and its indifferent inhabitants, poverty includes fear, doom, abandonment, failure, longing. Poverty accentuates the idea of exposing snobbery. However, hope is recognized as one of the semantic components of poverty.

The conceptual features of the “wealth – poverty” dyad are actualized with the help of the specification of investigated concepts by refining the semantics of these lexemes, which verbalize the appearance, life, and emotional state of the characters. Additional significant features do not present a part of the general idea of wealth also exist in the works of O. Henry: wealth is characterized by honor, greed, whim, at the same time it is a kind of burden, punishment for its owners. The value characteristics of the investigated dyad are determined: poverty as a life adversity, hard experience correlates with wealth as a test of moral endurance and reliability. The opposition of spiritual and material wealth is emphasized.


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29 March 2019

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Sociolinguistics, linguistics, semantics, discourse analysis, science, technology, society

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Mandzhieva, S., Khalgaeva, D., Mandzhieva, S., & Basanova, T. (2019). Conceptual Dyad “Wealth – Poverty” As Reflection Of Idiostyle Of O.Henry. In D. K. Bataev (Ed.), Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism, vol 58. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 758-767). Future Academy.