What is the tone and mood of "After Twenty Years" by O. Henry?

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The overall tone and feeling of O. Henry’s “After Twenty Years” is somewhat somber and reminiscent. It follows the two men, Jim and Bob, whose lives have vastly diverged over time, and it chronicles their departure and how their lives have ended up going very differently.

While they were once good friends, they haven’t seen each other in twenty years and they are now on the opposite ends of life and the law. Bob has become a wanted criminal, while Jimmy is now a police officer. Jimmy, realizing that their lives have so drastically diverged, can’t bring himself to reveal who he is to his friend, and he departs before letting Bob know that he did in fact show up for their scheduled rendezvous. Jimmy later sends another officer to apprehend Bob. Overall, the feel is very somber as the friends realize they’re no longer the same people, and the way their lives have turned out will keep them separated forever.

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The general mood is one of uncertainty. Who are these men? Just what they are up to? There must be more going on here than meets the eye, surely. This is a deliberate strategy on Henry's part. He knows that if there's an air of mystery about the piece, then the reader will be all the more keen to find out what happens next. That the story takes place at night, when there aren't too many people around, merely adds to the intrigue.

Personally speaking, I didn't see the twist ending coming when I first read the story. But even those who have still pay fulsome tribute to Henry's skill at setting up the surprise denouement. Here as elsewhere, he hooks the audience in, using a light, unthreatening tone for this purpose. The action may be shrouded in mystery but there's nothing menacing about the tone Henry uses; this isn't Edgar Allan Poe we're dealing with here. We sense there's something going on beneath the surface, but even if we don't quite know what it is, we're fairly certain it's not something that's going to give us nightmares.

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The setting of O.Henry's "After Twenty Years" creates a mood of mystery and secrecy. The story takes place at "10 o'clock at night, but chilly gusts of wind with a taste of rain in them had well nigh depeopled the streets."  Most people wouldn't be out on a night like this as the quote points out, so the story is immediately shrouded in mystery.  Jimmy is checking doors but "suddenly slowed his walk" when he sees a man leaning against the door of the hardware store.  The fact that Jimmy "suddenly slowed" indicates surprise and that he is seeing something out of the ordinary, adding tension to the story. 

Silky Bob lights his cigar revealing "a pale, square-jawed face with keen eyes and a little white scar near his right eyebrow."  This description clearly creates mystery and suspense, each detail slowly revealing a face that has a scar.  Most people don't have scars on their faces, so this specific detail increases suspense. 

O. Henry is sympathetic toward both characters, but especially toward Jimmy the police officer.  His description of Jimmy at the beginning of the story indicates a man who is responsible and takes his duties seriously.  He checks every business door as he completes his rounds with a "watchful eye."  O. Henry also describes him as a "fine guardian of the peace."  This portrayal indicates a respect for this character's dedication, even on such an inhospitable evening.

O.Henry's depiction of Bob is not as complimentary, although he does highlight Bob's loyalty.  Most men, especially if involved in crime, would not keep such an appointment after twenty years.  However, this also points to Bob's arrogance which ultimately sets up the surprise ending.

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