In the story "After Twenty Years," what does the narrator not know? 

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lynn30k eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In O. Henry's "After Twenty Years" neither we the readers nor the narrator of the story know who the policeman really is. O. Henry's 1906 short story is written in third person so we are not aware of the thoughts of any of the three characters; we only know what is said by the characters and descriptions of the three. What we do not know is that the policeman is really Jimmy Wells, the man Bob is waiting for. The two were best friends in the past and had made an agreement to meet in twenty years at the spot where "the policeman" sees Bob. Jimmy recognizes Bob immediately, although we do not know this until the end of the story. Bob tells "the policeman" about his life. He says he "kept hustling around over it pretty lively," and we know from his diamond watch and scarf pin he is wealthy. He also tells "the policeman" that Jimmy was honest and "plodding." This is all true; Jimmy finds another cop to pretend to be him, so that he will not have to arrest Bob himself. Jimmy has indeed been honest to the point of becoming a policeman while Bob is wanted for multiple crimes. The old friendship means enough to Jimmy that he has someone else do the actual arrest.