Compare and contrast Ernest Hemingway's "A Day's Wait" with O. Henry's "After Twenty Years"In what aspects are they similar/ different in style, diction, sentence structure, tone, irony,etc.?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two short stories that present "a slice of life," Ernest Hemingway's "A Day's Wait" and O. Henry's "After Twenty Years" share many similarities although they differ in a few aspects.


  • Both stories are written in a detached style that leads the reader to a surprising ending.  "A Day's Wait" seems little more than the tale of a son's bout of influenza, when in truth it is an existential wrestling by the boy with his fear of death; likewise, "After Twenty Years" seems the simple tale of the meeting of old friends, but becomes much more meaningful with the ironic twist of fate revealed at the end.
  • Thematically, the stories are similar as they both concern an individual's dilemma of conscience
  • There is a surprise to both endings:  In O. Henry's narrative, Jimmy's letter reveals that he is, in fact, the old friend who has actually come at the appointed time.  However, being a policeman, he does not have the heart to arrest his boyhood friend who has turned to crime.  In Hemingway's story, the existential importance of his illness to Schatz does not become apparent to the reader until the last paragraph.
  • Both stories are developed mainly through dialogue.
  • There is a poignancy of tone in both stories as the reader realizes the inner struggles of the main characters, struggles that involve the hearts and souls of these personages.


  • The inner conflicts differ in magnitude as Schatz faces the idea of dying; Jimmy is confronted with a question of integrity, rather than life and death.
  • "After Twenty Years" is told in 3rd person narrator with the use of both dialogue and narration while "A Day's Wait" is written in first person narrator.
  • Hemingway's journalistic detached style differs from O. Henry's style that has some insights into the nature of the characters with his use of descriptive adjectives, vivid verbs, and connotative nouns.  For instance, O. Henry writes of 'Silky' Bob walking with the man he believes is Jimmy,

The two men started up the street, arm in arm.  The man from the West, his egotism enlarged by success, was beginning to outline the history of his career. The other, submerged in his overcoat, listened with interest.

  • The tone of Hemingway is journalistic--a reporting of what has happened, while O. Henry's tone is more literary as he describes the feelings of characters and lends some authorial interpretation.
  • Diction and sentence structure are also more literary in "After Twenty Years" than in the clipped, objective journalistic style of "A Day's Wait."