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In "After Twenty Years'" by O. Henry, Bob calls his friend Jimmy Wells "the finest chap...
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Bob, of course, does not realize he is talking to Jimmy Wells. If he had not told him his friend was "the finest chap in the world" and "the truest, staunchest old chap in the world," Jimmy might have arrested Bob himself.
Bob's characterization of his friend is accurate. Jimmy has a exceptionally good character, but his integrity and "staunchness," a synonym for dependability, led him to become an incorruptible policeman and a "staunch" upholder of the law. His integrity is what motivates him to keep the appointment he made twenty years earlier, but it also forces him to have his old friend arrested once he recognizes him as a fugitive wanted in Chicago.
It is interesting to see how O. Henry handles their meeting. He does not say that Bob, the patrolman, is on his way to meet his friend.
Trying doors as he went, twirling his club with many intricate and artful movements, turning now and then to cast his watchful eye adown the pacific thoroughfare, the officer, with his stalwart form and slight swagger, made a fine picture of a guardian of the peace.
One of the ironies of this story is that Jimmy has not only become a policeman but that he has been assigned a beat that includes the place where he has promised to meet his old friend. He is in no hurry because it is not quite ten o'clock. The "intricate and artful" club movements are intended to show he has been a cop for a long time.
The qualities Bob admired in Jimmy when they were youngsters have only strengthened over the intervening years. People do change over time, but they change in accordance with the characters they have displayed in childhood. As Wordsworth says, "The child is father to the man." The same is true of "Silky" Bob.
The note that Jimmy has the arresting officer hand to Bob shows he still has the character traits his friend admired. It reads:
"Bob: I was at the appointed place on time. When you struck a match to light your cigar I saw it was the face of the man wanted in Chicago. Somehow I couldn't do it myself, so I went around and got a plain clothes man to do the job. JIMMY."
Jimmy was torn between loyalty to his old friend and his duty as a police officer. For twenty years he has been pursuing a course of honesty and duty. He cannot betray his sworn oath as a policeman by letting his friend escape. He decides on the spot that he must be arrested, but he makes sure that Bob will remain in the doorway long enough for him to be able to get another policeman to make the arrest. As he is leaving Bob he says:
"I'll be on my way. Hope your friend comes around all right. Going to call time on him sharp?"
"I should say not!" said the other. "I'll give him half an hour at least."
So Jimmy knows he will have enough time to get someone else to meet Bob and make the arrest.
The ironic thing about Jimmy is that he has changed and he hasn't changed. He is a different man but he is still the same man. He has just matured, and the truthfulness and loyalty which were his outstanding characteristics have almost inevitably led him into a career in which he is responsible for upholding the values that are most important to him.
"After Twenty Years" is a very short story, but O. Henry has managed to present a composite picture, a sort of double exposure, in which the reader can see two young men and, superimposed, the middle-aged men they have become with the passage of time. Bob has traveled a thousand miles to meet the one man in the world he thought he could trust.
Posted by billdelaney on May 7, 2013 at 12:44 PM (Answer #1)
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