Wha type of irony is found in the story "After Twenty Years"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

O. Henry's story "After Twenty Years" is an example of situational irony. The main ironic twist occurs at the very end. 'Silky' Bob realizes that he has traveled a thousand miles to meet his old friend Jimmy Wells, and in the meantime Jimmy Wells has become a policeman who recognizes Bob as the man wanted by the Chicago police and has him arrested. Irony is usually like a joke that would be funny if it were not painful or even tragic. In situational irony the actual event turns out to be different from what was expected. Bob expected a pleasant meeting with an old pal and ended up being taken off to jail. The reader is just as surprised by this turn of events as 'Silky' Bob. Perhaps Bob should have gotten an intuitive warning when he found that the restaurant where he and Jimmy had agreed to meet after twenty years had been torn down five years ago. This in itself is situational irony. 'Big Joe' Brady's restaurant has been turned into a hardware store. Everything changes. But the main twist of situational irony is reserved for last, when Bob realizes that the man who has him by the arm is not Jimmy Wells and that he had been speaking to Jimmy Wells without knowing it.

Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both verbal irony and situational irony are identifiable in O. Henry's short story "After Twenty Years." The situational irony is clear, as the twist at the end of the story reveals an unexpected turn of events for Bob; the discrepancy between what actually happened and what Bob expected to happen make a clear case for situational irony.

The verbal irony is more subtly placed, like when Bob says to the cop, "In New York a man doesn’t change much," without realizing that the cop is Jimmy. Clearly, in New York, a man can change a great deal, if Bob can't recognize Jimmy and if Jimmy's attachment to Bob has changed so much that Jimmy chooses to stay on the right side of the law when confronted with the choice. Another example of verbal irony can be found when the cop approaches Bob, pretending to be Jimmy, and says, "We’ll go to a place I know, and have a good long talk about old times." Little does Bob know that the place he knows is likely the precinct and the long talk about old times will not be a friendly one.