A Retrieved Reformation: Summary & Themes

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  • 0:03 Summary of ''A…
  • 1:29 Love at First Sight
  • 2:22 Isn't it Ironic?
  • 3:26 Themes
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Do you think everyone is capable of change? In this lesson, we'll take a look at the short story, ''A Retrieved Reformation'' by O. Henry, and you can decide for yourself as we follow a convicted burglar's journey.

Summary of A Retrieved Reformation

Do you think people have the ability to change? If so, does your analysis include repeat offenders, such as criminals? In the short story, 'A Retrieved Reformation' by O. Henry, Jimmy Valentine, a young criminal, does a complete 180 leaving the reader in shock, but it's not long before his past catches up with him. Let's take a look at a summary of the story and analyze the themes.

Mr. James Valentine, aka Jimmy, will be released from jail years before his sentence is up thanks to a pardon from the governor. As his release papers are handed to him, the warden makes comments about Jimmy cracking safes and covering for people, but Jimmy seems confused and explains he's innocent. The warden doesn't buy it.

The next morning, Jimmy is released. He eats a nice meal and heads to a cafe owned by a man named Mike Dolan. Mike welcomes him and gives Jimmy his key. Jimmy heads up to his room that he was arrested in. Jimmy opens a panel in the wall and pulls out his custom set of burglar's tools. He changes his clothing and takes the suitcase downstairs. When Mike asks what's up, Jimmy acts aloof, the same as he did to the warden.

In the following week, there are a string of burglaries in the neighboring areas. Ben Price, the detective that arrested Jimmy, becomes suspicious and heads out to investigate. Ben is convinced Jimmy has left his mark.

Love at First Sight

Jimmy travels to the small town of Elmore, Arkansas, and heads to the town bank. Outside, he is taken aback by a young woman. He pays a young boy out front of the bank for information and tricks the boy into giving him the woman's name. Here we meet Annabel Adams, the daughter of the man who happens to own the bank.

Jimmy heads to a hotel and gives the clerk a fake name. Jimmy, aka Mr. Ralph Spencer, says he is interested in starting a business in town. Ralph tells the clerk he wants to open a shoe store, and the clerk supports the idea. It is in this moment the reader learns that Jimmy is gone, and Ralph has risen from the ashes of his former self. He settles in the town and opens a shoe store. By December of that year, Ralph has everything he could wish for: a successful shoe store, good standing in the town, and he's engaged to Annabel.

Isn't It Ironic?

One day, Jimmy sends a letter to an old friend and wants to meet to pass along his set of burglar's tools. Ralph states he wants to live a straight and good life with his soon to be bride. Meanwhile, Ben Price comes to town and sees Ralph (aka Jimmy). He is curious about the marriage to a banker's daughter and decides to stick around. He follows the Adams family and Ralph to the bank as Mr. Adams wishes to show everyone his new vault. A scream is heard, and the men rush to find that one of Annabel's nieces has shut her sister Agatha in the vault. Mr. Adams panics because the combination has yet to be set, therefore, the vault cannot be opened.

Annabel looks to Ralph for help. Ralph, aka Jimmy, grabs his suitcase. He gets the child out of the vault, grabs his things and walks out the front door, ignoring the people behind him calling his name. He meets Ben at the door and assumes Ben is going to arrest him. Ben calls him Mr. Spencer and says he must be mistaken. Ben Price then turns and walks away.

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