After Twenty Years by O. Henry Character Analysis

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  • 0:04 Summary and Background
  • 0:47 Bob
  • 1:38 Jimmy
  • 2:38 The Other Patrolman
  • 3:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

''After Twenty Years'' by O. Henry is a story with a twist about how people can change over time, yet still keep their bonds of friendship intact. This lesson will explore the three characters of Bob, Jimmy, and the other patrolman.

Summary and Background

Have you ever been disappointed by how your friend changes over time? Then the short story ''After Twenty Years'' by O. Henry is for you. In this story, two friends have not seen each other for twenty years. The story unfolds on the agreed-upon night when the two promised to meet each other. One man, Bob, meets an officer on the street and tells the lawman about his plan to meet his friend Jimmy. Some time passes and another man arrives who Bob believes to be his friend Jimmy. Unfortunately for Bob, Jimmy was the first officer who recognized him as a wanted criminal. The story ends with Bob being arrested.

Let's take a look at the three characters in ''After Twenty Years'': Bob, Jimmy, and the other policeman.


We'll begin with the protagonist, Bob, or ''Silky Bob'' as his alias goes. The narrator describes the 38-year-old Bob physically in a flash of matchlight as having ''a pale, square-jawed face with keen eyes, and a little white scar near his right eyebrow. His scarfpin was a large diamond, oddly set.'' His physical description includes hard lines that make sense later in the story when a patrolman reveals Bob to be a criminal. Even the diamond serves to identify him as a criminal, being a valuable gem with an imperfect setting.

Despite his flaws and criminal background, he does have redeeming qualities. He's a loyal friend to Jimmy, a man he was raised alongside as a brother. Despite getting caught up in unlawful behavior over the past twenty years in the West, he still makes it back to the appointed place and time to meet his friend. He risked getting caught keeping this appointment, but he would not be stopped.


Let's now turn to the friend Bob waited so long to meet, Jimmy Wells. In the beginning, the reader first sees Jimmy walking ''with his stalwart form and slight swagger'', forming the picture of a nonchalant, confident, and capable patrolman. He approaches a shady looking character who turns out to be Bob, leading the reader to believe he dutifully performs his job.

The reader mostly learns about Jimmy's character through Bob's descriptions. Bob describes this 40-year-old man as someone who loved New York too much to ever leave it. Bob does not fear Jimmy would miss the meeting because he remembers Jimmy as ''the truest, stanchest old chap in the world.'' As it turns out, Jimmy was true enough to come at the appointed time after all.

Jimmy believes in the law. He prizes the law so much that he turns in a friend he grew up with. He's also not a hard man. He does not take pleasure in bringing his friend to justice, so he has another patrolman make the arrest. He also softens the blow by writing a personal letter to his old friend explaining the situation.

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