W. S. Porter, who is better known by the pen-name O. Henry, wrote over 600 short stories. Some s consider “A Report” to be not only his best ever work, but a in the art of short story writing. The involves what happens between the and three main characters: Azalea Adair, a self-educated, gentle lady of the old South; Major Caswell, the husband who treats her badly; and Uncle Caesar, a kind African American man with a royal bearing who tries to help Azalea.
- Original Text (6047 words)
- Pre-Intermediate English Version
- General Understanding Quiz
- VOA Learning English Version
English Learner Vocabulary Help
General Comments on the Story
“A Municipal Report” takes place in Nashville, Tennessee in the late 1880s. It is told in the form of a report by a man who came to Nashville on business but whose name we never learn. He changes a number of times from talking about what happened to him in Nashville (the main story) to describing the city in general as if he was writing a guide book. To make it easier to understand the main story, we have not included these “guide book” sections in our Pre-Intermediate Version.
The storyteller says many times that Nashville is a quiet, boring city. An interesting feature of the story is how O. Henry uses his description of the weather (he mentions at several key points that it is raining lightly) as symbolism to add to the feeling that there is nothing exciting or interesting to see or do in the town.
When talking about African Americans, the narrator uses the term “Negro”. Although not a polite form of address in modern times, this was the common (and polite) term used at the time of the story. When talking about one the the main characters in the story – Uncle Caesar – he says that Caesar looks like a famous Zulu chief by the name of King Cettiwayo (pictured on the right), and uses this name to refer to Uncle Caesar several times later in the story.
An important part of the story is an old coat that is worn by Uncle Caesar. It is described as once having been the military coat of an officer in the Southern Army at the time of the American Civil War. A normal southern officer’s coat would have looked like the picture on the left, but the one described in the original story is much fancier with many tassels. This is probably because southern officers in high positions could have their uniforms tailor-made in almost any style they wished. The description goes on to say that the coat was once gray but now is of many colors and in very poor condition. This is not surprising, as the story takes place around twenty years after the end of the war!
A feature of O. Henry’s stories is that there is often some kind of surprise ending. One of the problems with the way many EFL students are taught to read English is that too much testing is based on understanding the meaning of individual words or sentences rather than the overall meaning of a story. In some stories, the ending or final result is not as it first appears. You need to think about the information that you are given to understand what really happened. At the end of “A Municipal Report” you will read that some people in the story say that one of the main characters was killed for money by “some no-good thieves”. Can you see any reason why this might not be true?
(n: critic pl critics) Someone, usually an expert, whose job it is to give opinions about books, movies, or other forms of art. 2000
(adj: municipal) To do with a Municipality (a district, town or city able to make its own laws for local government). 7000
(n: masterpiece pl masterpieces) A great book, painting, piece of music, movie, etc; one of the best examples of creative or artistic work of its kind. 7000
(n: plot pl plots) The series of events that form the story in a movie, novel, play, etc. 3000
(n: narrator pl narrators) Someone who tells a story; a storyteller. 7000
(adj: cruel, crueler, cruelest) Used to describe: 1. someone who hurts others and does not feel sorry about it; 2. something that causes or helps to cause pain or suffering.
(n: cruelty pl cruelties) 1. Something which causes pain or suffering. 2. The quality or state of being cruel. 3000
(n: airship pl airships) A very large steerable aircraft that does not have wings but has a body filled with gas so that it floats and that is driven through the air by engines. 12000
(v: boil, boils, boiled, boiling) 1. To heat a liquid (or a container with liquid in it) so that bubbles are formed and rise to the top. I'm boiling water to make coffee. 2. To cook by boiling. I've boiled some eggs.
(adj: boiled) Used to refer to things that have been cooked by boiling. boiled eggs 2000
(n: bone pl bones) The hard substance forming the skeleton of man, animals etc. 2000
(n: carriage pl carriages) 1. A horse-drawn vehicle with four wheels that is used to carry people. 2. [British] A separate section of a train. A railway carriage. 4000
(v: complain, complains, complained, complaining) To say or write that you that you are unhappy or not satisfied with something or are sick, uncomfortable, etc. 2000
(n: complaint pl complaints) A statement that you are unhappy or not satisfied with something. 2000
(n: condition pl conditions) The state or situation in which a person or thing exists; the physical state of something. The house is not in good condition. He is in no condition to leave hospital. 1000
(n: contract pl contracts) A legal agreement between people, companies, etc. He has a four-year employment contract. The company won the contract to build the new school. 1000
(n: editor pl editors) Someone who decides what goes into a newspaper, magazine or book and is responsible for making sure that the material printed is correct in facts, spelling and grammar. 2000
(n: fist pl fists) A tightly closed hand, with its fingers bent down into the palm. 4000
(n: funeral pl funerals) The ceremony held for a dead person before their body is put in the ground [buried] or burned [cremated]. 3000
(v: imagine, imagines, imagined, imagining) 1. To form a picture of something in your mind that is not there or not real. I can imagine how you felt. 2. To see or hear etc something which is not true or does not exist. There is no-one there. You're just imagining things! 3. To think; to suppose. I imagine that he will be late. 1000
(v: knock, knocks, knocked, knocking) To make a loud, sharp noise by hitting or tapping something [especially a door to get someone to open it]. 1000
(n: murder pl murders) The crime of deliberately killing a person. 2000
(n: negro pl negroes) An old-fashioned word for a person who has dark skin and who belongs to a race of people who are originally from Africa. 12000
As this word can be offensive, we only use it where we feel that it is important to the meaning of a story.
(n: poem pl poems) A piece of writing arranged in lines which usually have a regular rhythm and often end in words that rhyme. 2000
(n: poet pl poets) A person who writes poems (poetry). 4000
(adj: proud, prouder, proudest) 1. Feeling very pleased because of something you have done or own, someone you know, etc. She felt proud as she watched her daughter graduate. 2. Having a too high opinion of oneself; arrogant. She was too proud to talk to us. 2000
(n: pride, noncount) A feeling of pleasure and satisfaction at one's achievements, possessions, family etc. She watched with pride as her daughter graduated. 3000
(v: rent, rents, rented, renting) 1. To pay money in return for being able to use something that belongs to someone else. 2. To allow someone to use something that you own in return for payment. We rent this flat from Mr Smith. Mr Smith rents this flat to us. 2000
(n: resource pl resources) A supply of something [such as money] that someone has and can use when it is needed. We have used up all our resources. We haven't the resources at this school for teaching disabled children. 1000
(adj: royal) Of or relating to a king or queen, etc. 2000
(n: rug pl rugs) A piece of thick, heavy material smaller than a carpet that is used to cover a section of a floor. Take off your shoes so you don't make the rug dirty. 4000
(v: shake, shakes, shook, shaken, shaking) To move back and forth or up and down with short, quick movements. 2000
(n: silence, noncount) 1. A period of time when there is no sound. The teacher asked for silence in the room. I find it hard to sleep unless there is complete silence.
(adj: silent) Used to describe someone or something that is not making noise.
(adv: silently) In a silent way. 3000
(n: slave pl slaves) Someone who is legally owned by another person and is forced to work for that person without pay. (ทาส) 3000
(n: streetcar pl streetcars) A vehicle that travels on roads on metal tracks and is used for carrying passengers. (ถนนรถ)
(n: thief pl thieves) Someone who takes (something) from the owner in a way that is wrong or against the law; a robber. The thief got away with all my money. (ขโมย) 3000
(adj: tidy, tidier, tidiest) Neat, with everything in the right place; well-ordered; not messy. (สะอาดสะอ้าน) 3000
(adj: tight, tighter, tightest) 1. Fitting very or too closely; [of clothes] fitting very close to your body. These shoes are too tight. (คับแน่น) 2. Flat or firm from being pulled or stretched; not loose. Pull the ribbon tight and make a bow. (ผูกแน่น) 3. Fastened, attached, or held in a position that is not easy to move. The lid is too tight. I can't open it. (แน่นหนา) 2000
(adv: tightly) In a tight way. The shirt fits too tightly around the arms. Hold on tightly to the railing. (แน่น)
(n: whip pl whips) A long cord or piece of leather attached to a handle, used for driving horses and forcing farm animals to move or work. (แส้) 3000
(prep: worth) Used to indicate the value of something. (มูลค่า) 1000
(n: yard pl yards) 1. The area of ground around a house, usually covered with grass or plants. (สนาม) 2. An area of enclosed (fenced) ground used for a special purpose. (ลานบ้าน) 3. An old British unit of length equal to three feet or 0.9144 meters. (หลา) 2000