What is the main conflict in Aftern Twenty Years?
The predominant conflict in "After Twenty Years" is an internal one that is not apparent to the reader until the surprise ending of the story. This internal conflict arises between friendship and duty within the character of Jimmy Wells (Man vs. Self).
As is typical of O. Henry's stories, the narrative begins in a manner that causes the reader to be unsuspecting of the policeman's identity. He seems to be a man who is complacent in his role in society as he twirls his baton and checks doors to be sure that they are locked—"His impressiveness was habitual and not for show." Further, the policeman's conversation with the man in the doorway is noncommittal, as there is little indication that he may suspect the stranger's identity. Apparently, too, at the time of the setting of the story, police officers wore no name badges as they do nowadays or, perhaps, the stranger from the West may have identified Officer Wells as his old friend.
It is not until O. Henry's ironic reversal at the end of the narrative that "Silky" Bob becomes aware that his old friend Jimmy has been on time for their meeting. And, as he reads the letter from Jimmy, Bob learns of the internal conflict between the part of Jimmy that was his friend and the part that is a policeman on duty.
The main conflict is in the police officer. He promised to meet his old friend twenty years earlier, and he was there. It was a testament to their friendship that both men were there. But he realized when the man lit the match that his old friend was a criminal who was wanted in Chicago. This is a man vs. self conflict. He is a police officer. Does he arrest his best friend, a man who was like a brother to him in their youth? Or does he let him go? The man came 1000 miles just to see him, and now he is going to arrest him? He resolves the conflict by having a plain clothes officer arrest him. But he can't even face him after that. He writes him a note.