What are some examples of how Jimmy Valentine changed in "A Retrieved Reformation"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Jimmy Valentine was a criminal he had to hide from the world. He couldn't have any friends, and he had no prospects of marrying, even though he is described as exceptionally smart, good-looking, and likable. He becomes a changed man when he falls in love at first sight with Annabel Adams. He knows he can't win a girl like her without going straight. He had planned to use his shoe store in Elmore, Arkansas as a "front" while he continued to burglarize banks in this new territory. But when he falls in love he decides to give up his life of crime and become a respectable citizen. In a short time, because of his brains and personality, he is a successful businessman and is engaged to Annabel. Once he has been accepted by her and her family, he is accepted by the community. This is a big change for him because he has been such a loner out of necessity. He tried to remain invisible before, but now he is known and liked by everybody.

At the end of a year the situation of Mr. Ralph Spencer was this: he had won the respect of the community, his shoe-store was flourishing, and he and Annabel were engaged to be married in two weeks. Mr. Adams, the typical, plodding, country banker, approved of Spencer. Annabel's pride in him almost equaled her affection. He was as much at home in the family of Mr. Adams and that of Annabel's married sister as if he were already a member.

This paragraph shows the advantages of living a "straight" life, being a social asset rather than a predator. O. Henry adds more when Jimmy (Ralph Spencer) goes into the bank.

All went inside the high, carved oak railings into the banking-room—Jimmy included, for Mr. Adams's future son-in-law was welcome anywhere. The clerks were pleased to be greeted by the good-looking, agreeable young man who was going to marry Miss Annabel.

This is intended to show that Jimmy has not only been accepted by Annabel and her extended family, but that he has also been accepted by the entire town. O. Henry is using this transformation in Jimmy's behavior and lifestyle to illustrate his thesis that criminals have to live in fear of arrest and can associate only with other criminals, whereas an honest, enterprising and industrious young man can enjoy all the good things of life—marriage, family, friends, prosperity, and peace of mind.

In another of his best stories, "After Twenty Years," O. Henry uses Patrolman Jimmy Wells and con-man 'Silky' Bob to illustrate the same thesis: that honesty is the best policy, or crime does not pay. Jimmy Wells has a good job and probably has a wife, children, a good home, and a circle of friends. Bob has apparently made a little more money, but he is always on the lam. He has no wife, children or home, and he has to travel a thousand miles to meet his only friend. But it turns out that Jimmy Wells feels compelled to have him arrested and probably sent to prison for the past misdeeds which have finally caught up with him.