O. Henry employs many of his usual literary devices in "A Retrieved Reformation," but there is more ironic humor in this story than in others.
- O. Henry follows the oral voice of the raconteur.
In other words, the story-line is much like one told by Mark Twain as O. Henry casually tells his tale, often with small observations. For example, when Jimmy Valentine is released from prison and he returns to his old room in a "little town near the state line."
One afternoon Jimmy Valentine and his suit-case climbed out of the mail-hack in Elmore, a little town five miles off the railroad down in the black-jack country of Arkansas. Jimmy, looking like an athletic young senior just home from college, went down the board side-walk toward the hotel.
- O. Henry uses foreshadowing
When Jimmy Valentine is released, the warden talks to him and mentions, "...Now, Valentine, you're not a bad fellow at heart. Stop cracking safes, and live straight." This hint that Jimmy is intrinsically good hints at his reformation.
His mention of Ben Price's collar-button on the floor from the time he overpowered Jimmy and arrested him, suggests that Price will again enter the scene.
- O. Henry combines local color and melodrama
The little town where Jimmy, who calls himself Ralph D. Spencer, stops in order to rob the new safe, changes his life as he falls instantly in love with the banker's daughter, Annabel Adams. His love for Annabel effects his reformation, and Jimmy decides to give up his safe-cracking tools. However, before he boards the train in order to give his case to his "old pal," Annabel wants him to take a look at the new bank safe. While he accompanies her, one of Annabel's nieces gets locked into the safe, whose lock has not yet been set. So, with no way to open it, the Adams family becomes frantic; Annabel looks at Ralph (Jimmy) for help. He must use his tools and open the safe.
- O. Henry humorously and poignantly employs irony
Fortunately, Jimmy Valentine has not yet bordered the train, but, ironically, has his tools that he can use to extricate Agatha from the safe.
Ironically, he has these tools that he was going to get rid of, but he must use them, calling attention to himself for Ben Price.
Ironically, Ben Price does not arrest him.
And, ironically Jimmy Valentine, now Ralph Spence proves what the warden has told him: He is, indeed, "not a bad fellow at heart" as the warden has told him when he was released.