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I've been trying to find this story for years. I remember reading it in Reading class as a kid (in the 1960s or early 70s). This would have been in a 4th or 5th grade reading book in New York State. It may have been in Highlights Magazine or Reader's Digest around the same time, too--I seem to recall that when I read it in school, I'd already read the story. I'm pretty sure it's an O. Henry.

The story starts with a boy leaving for work in the morning. He's been working in a factory since his father died--supporting his mother and two younger siblings. He resents it.

This morning he decides that his younger brother can take his turn supporting the family. So the older brother decides to just walk away--toward freedom. The story ends with the surprise reveal that the boy has been working so long in the factory that he is crippled (and, thus, will never be free or able to support himself any other way).

Does this ring a bell for anyone? Thanks in advance for any help offered!

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  • If you're not sure about the author, I'd recommend not using the author tag - it could after all be by a different person. So unless you're 100% sure about the author, I'd advise against using an author tag on a Story-ID. Thanks :) Nice question BTW, although we could use some more details - when did you read it? Where did you read it? What language?What format (ebook, print, etc)? Any detail can be helpful, no matter how small you may think it is!
    – Mithical
    Sep 25, 2017 at 14:56
  • thanks, Mithrandir. I'll change the tag back again (I undeleted your deletion because I didn't understand and thought we might have been adding it at the same time). I'm pretty sure it's O. Henry though Sep 25, 2017 at 14:58
  • @RobinBlythe-Nicathain I had a look with no success in this complete works books.google.co.uk/… you may do better at recognising it if it was O Henry.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 29, 2017 at 1:55
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    Some of the details resemble "The Apostate" by Jack London
    – Quassnoi
    Jan 29, 2019 at 7:21
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    Yes! That's it! Jack London's "The Apostate". The teacher must have added the "it's almost like an O. Henry story" and I got that in my head. I don't think I paid much attention to authors back in grade school. Thank you very much, @Quassnoi :) Apr 1, 2019 at 19:56

1 Answer 1

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It's "The Apostate", by Jack London.

The story starts with Johnny being woken by his mother to go to work in a factory as he does every day to earn money for them and his younger siblings. Towards the end of the story:

He had long known his mother's ambition for the younger boy, but the thought of it no longer rankled. Nothing mattered any more. Not even that.

"I know, ma, what you've ben plannin' for Will--keepin' him in school to make a book-keeper out of him. But it ain't no use, I've quit. He's got to go to work."

"An' after I have brung you up the way I have," she wept, starting to cover her head with the apron and changing her mind.

"You never brung me up," he answered with sad kindliness. "I brung myself up, ma, an' I brung up Will. He's bigger'n me, an' heavier, an' taller. When I was a kid, I reckon I didn't git enough to eat. When he come along an' was a kid, I was workin' an' earnin' grub for him too. But that's done with. Will can go to work, same as me, or he can go to hell, I don't care which. I'm tired. I'm goin' now. Ain't you goin' to say goodbye?"

[...]

The houses and factories thinned out and the open spaces increased as he approached the country. At last the city was behind him, and he was walking down a leafy lane beside the railroad track. He did not walk like a man. He did not look like a man. He was a travesty of the human. It was a twisted and stunted and nameless piece of life that shambled like a sickly ape, arms loose-hanging, stoop-shouldered, narrow-chested, grotesque and terrible.

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    Could you also add any details which show how "the Apostate" fits the OP's description? Sep 28, 2020 at 16:05
  • Sam, please use the edit link to add an explanation for your answer, as your current post falls short of our community's expectations. Our site's a bit different from a discussion forum: we're looking for authoritative answers (preferably backed by references) rather than 6-word opinions. For further guidance, see How to Answer and take the Tour. :-) Sep 29, 2020 at 4:00
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    @Gallifreyan I found the story online and edited in some details to show the matches. In fact this answer was even confirmed correct in comments.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 29, 2020 at 9:18
  • Time to delete this bookmark! I didn't realize that I'd already thanked the person who answered the question for me. Thanks again!
    – Robin
    Apr 15, 2021 at 23:43
  • @Robin It seems like you lost access to the account that you used to post the question, since you posted this comment from a new account. If you merge your accounts, you'll be able to use your original account to "accept" this answer, marking it as correct and marking the question as solved.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Apr 16, 2021 at 5:26

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