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In "After Twenty Years," what does this passage mean? "It takes the West to put a razor...

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allisunil | eNoter

Posted May 21, 2013 at 9:56 AM via web

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In "After Twenty Years," what does this passage mean?

"It takes the West to put a razor edge on him"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 21, 2013 at 4:53 PM (Answer #1)

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O. Henry's ironic story of the twenty year reunion of two old friends, one of whom went West to make his fortune, depicts Bob's having come a thousand miles to meet Jimmy Wells back in New York. As Bob talks to the policeman who comes by on his beat, he tells the officer, who asks if he has done well in the West,

"You bet! I hope Jimmy has done half as well. He was a kind of plodder, though, good fellow as he was. I've had to compete with some of the sharpest wits going to get my pile. A man gets in a groove in New York. It takes the West to put a razor-edge on him."

Here Bob alludes to his criminal activity which has profited him.  In New York, an old, established city there are too many controls in place and people of more sophistication for anyone to engage in some of the wild schemes that people can succeed at in the West of the early twentieth century; so, the term "Wild West" still applies in the setting of O. Henry's story. Illegal activity that would have been curbed in New York was not stopped in the West, partly because there was not enough law enforcement to do so and people are more mobile in new settlements. Thus, there is a danger present in the West that is not in the East, and there is also opportunity for illegal activity, such as that in which Bob is involved.

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