After Twenty Years by O Henry Summary and Analysis

After Twenty Years by O Henry Summary and Analysis

  • April 21, 2022
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“The Four Million” was a collection of different short stories that O. Henry wrote. It was published in 1906. “After Twenty Years” has been added to the said collection of O Henry and is known as the best piece of literature as evident by a summary and analysis of its history.

The Story starts with a policeman, who at night patrols the streets of New York. It is about 10:00 P. M and due to rain and strong wind, no one is there in the streets. The cop rotates his stick in his hand speedily and enjoys the weather. He examines every door that he passes and makes sure that each one is locked up correctly. It is a place where there are mostly businesses but none of them is open right now and has been closed hours ago. The cop wanders here and there. He sees a person standing near a shop. The cop went toward him to make an inquiry.  

Suspecting that the cop is coming toward him, the unknown person (who is later identified as “Silky” Bob in the story) asks the cop to calm himself down and tells him that he is just waiting for a friend. He explains the reason why he waits for his friend and tells the cop that exactly 20 years ago, he had an agreement with his friend to meet in the place where he is standing right now. Feeling that the cop is suspicious, he asks him if it may seem awkward to him. He sums up the best times that he had with his friend years ago. He starts explaining everything to the cop.

He tells his story to the cop and says that there was a Big Joe’ Brady’s restaurant right here almost 20 years ago. The cop endorses his statement while saying that it was there about five years ago. In the said restaurant “Silky” Bob had a good night’s meal with his best friend, whose name, he said, was Jimmy Wells. His age was 20 years whereas the age of “Silky” Bob was 18 years at that time. He further utters that he spent many years of life with his friend in the streets of New York and both of them were like brothers even though they were not real. O Henry creates a summary of the relationship between the two friends at the beginning of his short story “After Twenty Years”.

“Silky” Bob tells the cop that he left the city the very next day to find a job and had great success; however, they decided and agreed to meet at the same place exactly after 20 years. The reason behind meeting with each other, he says, was to know who would be more successful between the two. The cop very eagerly listens to the “Silky” Bob and the whole story seems very interesting to him due to the long wait for a meeting between the old friends. The cop questions “Silky” Bob whether he had any contact with his friend after he left New York, to which he replies that he contacted his friend for a time but then the same was ended. “Silky” Bob was sure that Jimmy would meet him at this place after twenty years. 

“Silky” Bob also explains certain attributes of his friend. He says that the friend was nice and sincere. He is not only hopeful but certain that his friend will keep the promise, so much so, he thinks that Jimmy Wells will not forget to come here and meet him as agreed 20 years ago. “Silky” Bob sees time on his watch and only three minutes have left until 10 O’clock. He thinks that the last goodbye was at 10, hence, he would reach there at the same time. The cop observes his watch, which seems costly as it is covered with diamonds.

The whole story creates suspense for the cop and he asks him whether he gained success in the west or not, to which he replies positively. Further, he is hopeful that his friend Jimmy Wells may be fortunate enough to have half of his wealth. He thinks that his friend was lethargic. “Silky” Bob differentiates New York from the west and tells further about his experiences and opportunities that he had while settling there. He also seeks guidance from his experiences while saying that in the west there are more chances of success as compared to his city and it is the west that tells a person to fight for his rights. In this part of the story “After Twenty Years”, the writer O Henry makes an analysis, in summary, of the nostalgic life of the character.

The policeman wants to move from there to continue his routine duties and wishes him the best of luck in meeting with his friend. The policeman also asks “Silky” Bob whether he is moving from there if his friend does not arrive, to which he replies that he must wait till 10:30. He is very much optimistic that if his best friend is alive, he will come and meet him today at exactly 10. Both of them say goodbye to each other and the cop leaves him alone. 

The weather becomes colder and colder due to rain. There are already fewer people on the streets; however, some who are outside of their homes hurriedly try to reach their houses. Nonetheless, “Silky” Bob does not move from his place in spite of so much coldness in the weather. He is also not certain whether his friend is alive or not as so much time has passed and he has not seen him. Twenty minutes have passed since the cop left him but he still waits enthusiastically for his best friend. 

A tall man, wearing a long coat arrives there and in no time both of them recognize each other. He is Jimmy Wells, for whom “Silky” Bob was waiting but not for a long time. Jimmy Wells asks a bunch of questions to “Silky” Bob regarding the west and about his future; however, before this, he wishes that the restaurant were there where they once dined together. “Silky” Bob tells him that he has found what he was looking for in the west whereas Jimmy discloses that he works for the city. Soon after giving a brief summary of the meeting between the two, the writer O Henry uses the technique of plot twist in the story “After Twenty Years” as evident from its analysis.

Jimmy is his guest now because he lives in the city and Bob has traveled too much to meet him, hence, Jimmy knows a place where they can sit peacefully and talk together. They both left the street, arm in arm. Bob starts telling his story about the days of his life that he has spent in the west. Jimmy listens carefully. There is very low light in the town but moving in the street they pass a shop where there is bright light and “Silky” Bob looks closely towards the nose of his friend Jimmy Wells and feels something strange with it. “Silky” Bob surprisingly utters:

“You’re not Jimmy Wells, Twenty years is a long time, but not long enough to change the shape of a man’s nose.” 

Jimmy Wells explains: 

“It sometimes changes a good man into a bad one,” said the tall man. “You’ve been under arrest for ten minutes, Bob. Chicago cops thought you might be coming to New York. They told us to watch for you. Are you coming with me quietly? That’s wise. But first here is something I was asked to give you. You may read it here at the window. It’s from a cop named Wells.”

The person hands over him a folded piece of paper and “Silky” Bob unfolds it with shaking hands so that he can read what is written on it, which is:

“Bob: I was at the place on time. I saw the face of the man wanted by Chicago cops. I didn’t want to arrest you myself. So I went and got another cop and sent him to do the job. JIMMY.” 

Summary Analysis of “After Twenty Years” by O Henry

From the very beginning of “After Twenty Years”, O Henry makes an analysis of New York weather and gives its summary. It is cold and the rain has de-peopled the streets and subsequently, the readers realize that everything was set up. The introduction to policemen at the start of the story symbolizes something related to criminal activities and public safety. It is believed that there are three characters in this short story; however, it is not wrong to say that there are only two characters whom the readers meet. One is the policeman who is just a listener and has been added to the story to brief the readers about the twenty years that Bob has spent in the west.

The only main character in the story is Bob, who talks about himself and also his friend. It is Bob through which the readers learn about Jimmy Wells. The policeman does not talk about himself nor does it seem that the same is necessary. At the end of the story, the readers realize that Bob is a criminal and Jimmy Wells with the help of other police officials has successfully apprehended him. It means that the policeman, who at the beginning of the story engages in conversation with Bob already knows that he is a criminal. He just makes sure that he is the person who is the wanted criminal. 

The story is full of suspense. Bob looks for his friend. It is strange for the readers that the two best friends have not met for 20 years. The writer portrays the theme of loyalty through the character of Bob. He is so loyal that he came here to meet his friend even without knowing whether he is alive or not. It proves his sincerity and his good habit of keeping his promise to his old friend. The writer has made a comparison between two different personalities.

Bob wants to be successful by hook or by crook and he gains it in the west. On the other hand, the second person Jimmy, who is alleged to be a slow mover, joins the company of cops. It cannot be said that he is not sincere with his friend but he gives priority to his duty instead of loyalty to his old friend as obvious from the summary and analysis of “After Twenty Years” by O Henry. 

O. Henry puts both these characters in juxtaposition and does not give any explanation. It is notable that in a novel or short story a writer may express his opinions being the narrator but in drama, he cannot do so. Nevertheless, the writer has not sided with any character neither Bob nor with Jimmy. If he wanted he could do so as it is a short story and not a drama but he has not. He shows both sides to his readers and leaves everything to them to decide who is right and who is wrong. 

It is the main idea of this short story that people change with the passage of time. The writer differentiates Bob from Jimmy Wells. Time has not affected the friendship of Bob. He is here to meet with the person, whom he calls his brother. Jimmy Wells, on the other hand, does not even meet him. It seems that time has a direct impact on his friendship. His relationship with Bob has become barren and pale over time; however, in the end, he says that he was there exactly at 10 O’clock; meaning thereby that he kept his promise.

Thematic summary and analysis of “After Twenty Years” by O Henry make it obvious that keeping the promise is one of the main themes of this short story. The writer portrays that every successful person even the criminals has the habit of keeping it. The second theme the writer portrays is loyalty and the third is the supremacy of duty over friendship.

Jimmy Wells is a good friend. He does not come to arrest his friend but sends other police officials. It means that he feels embarrassed about arresting his own best friend, hence, he cannot be considered disloyal. In a positive sense, Jimmy Wells chooses duty as the first obligation. He makes up his mind to arrest a criminal and ignores that the criminal is his old friend.

In a nutshell, the story is a masterpiece. The writer remains impartial in the whole story. It also ends without a conclusion. Most writers write stories with such endings so that their readers can differentiate the difference between right and wrong, hence, every reader forms a different opinion when he makes a summary of his own experiences of life and analysis as is in the short story “After Twenty Years” by O Henry.

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