A Retrieved Reformation

by O. Henry

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What does Jimmy risk to save Agatha in "A Retrieved Reformation"?

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Jimmy has his suitcase full of specialized safecracking tools with him right inside the room containing the brand-new bank vault where Agatha gets accidentally locked inside. It would be hard for him to resist opening that suitcase with a little girl screaming for help and in imminent danger of dying of suffocation or pure hysteria inside. If he opens the suitcase, exposes his tools, and uses them to open the bank-vault, he risks everything he has achieved through his reformation. He will lose the girl he loves and plans to marry. A number of witnesses will see he is an experienced safecracker. The tools will be evidence that can be used as evidence to convict him of the three bank jobs he committed right after being released from prison. Ben Price, the bank detective, is waiting right outside in the main room of the bank to arrest him for those bank jobs. Jimmy knows he would have to go to prison for a long stretch. His nemesis predicted what will happen to Jimmy when he catches up with him:

"That's Dandy Jim Valentine's autograph. He's resumed business. Look at that combination knob—jerked out as easy as pulling up a radish in wet weather. He's got the only clamps that can do it. And look how clean those tumblers were punched out! Jimmy never has to drill but one hole. Yes, I guess I want Mr. Valentine. He'll do his bit next time without any short-time or clemency foolishness.”

If Jimmy was sentenced to four years in prison for burglarizing a bank in Springfield, he might get twelve years, without clemency, for the three jobs he pulled after his release. He would be a hardened career criminal when he got out again. There would be no chance of another reformation, or of finding another girl like Annabel Adams. Ironically, Jimmy risks everything by rescuing little Agatha from the bank vault, but because he risks everything by exposing his identity as a master safecracker, he is allowed to "retrieve" his reformation.

“Hello, Ben!” said Jimmy, still with his strange smile. “Got around at last, have you? Well, let's go. I don't know that it makes much difference, now.”

And then Ben Price acted rather strangely.

“Guess you're mistaken, Mr. Spencer,” he said. “Don't believe I recognize you. Your buggy's waiting for you, ain't it?”

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How does Jimmy stay true to himself by saving Agatha in "A Retrieved Reformation"?

In O’Henry’s story, the character of Jimmy Valentine is a safe-cracker and career criminal. As the story develops, Jimmy leaves that identity behind. Arriving in Elmore, Arkansas after being released from prison, his love for Annabel Adams changes him into a different person. He even changes his name to Ralph Spencer. The reformation he undergoes includes opening a legitimate business, succeeding in operating it, and becoming engaged to Annabel.

All of this is placed at risk, however, when two things occur: detective Ben Price tracks him down, and a little girl’s impulsive trick jeopardizes her sister’s life. While Jimmy/Ralph is in the bank with Annabel and her family, her father—the bank manager—is showing off his fancy new safe. One of Annabel’s little nieces mischievously shuts her sister, Agatha, inside it. Jimmy is forced to reveal his safe-cracking skills in order to rescue the child. Jimmy stays true to himself by using his skills but also by tapping into the good inside him, even though it means risking his future happiness. Fortunately, Price understands this and passes on the opportunity to capture him.

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