A Retrieved Reformation

by O. Henry

Start Free Trial

What clues in O. Henry's "A Retrieved Reformation" foreshadow what is going to happen?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

While the reader may often miss an author's "clues" of foreshadowing, a second reading in hindsight, so to speak, usually aids the reader in detecting these subtle hints of what is to come in the narrative. Returning to the narrative of "A Retrieved Reformation," then, the reader will discover these hints:

  • After being pardoned by the governor, Jimmy Valentine is released from prison, but the warden cautions him,

"Brace up, and make a man of yourself. You're not a bad fellow at heart. Stop cracking safes, and live straight.....Better think over my advice.”

  • That Jimmy is not interested in any part of the world around him, but, instead, intends to return to his old way of life is evidenced in his first actions,

Disregarding the song of the birds, the waving green trees, and the smell of the flowers, Jimmy headed straight for a restaurant. There he tasted the first sweet joys of liberty in the shape of a broiled chicken and a bottle of white wine—followed by a cigar a grade better than the one the warden had given him.

  • When Jimmy goes to his room, he discovers signs of the detective who arrested him and is familiar with his criminal activity and may be on the alert for new activity now that Jimmy has been freed,

There on the floor was still Ben Price's collar-button that had been torn from that eminent detective's shirt-band when they had overpowered Jimmy to arrest him.

  • Jimmy resumes his career as a bank robber and breaks into several banks, after which Price notices that among the bank robberies there are the similarities to Valentine's modus operandi, suggesting that the detective will soon investigate Valentine's criminal activity:

By comparing notes, a remarkable similarity in the methods of the burglaries was noticed. Ben Price investigated the scenes of the robberies, and was heard to remark:

“That's Dandy Jim Valentine's autograph. He's resumed business.

  • But, Jimmy falls in love with Annabel Adams, who is the daughter of--of all things--the bank president in the small town of Elmore where he has moved to hide himself. Love has accomplished what nothing else can in Jimmy; he wishes to give up his life of crime and marry and settle in Elmore with his successful shoe business.  So, he writes to a fellow safe-cracker and offered him his tools. However,

Ben Price jogged unobtrusively into Elmore in a livery buggy.....he got a good look at Ralph D. Spencer. "Going to marry the banker's daughter, are you, Jimmy? Well, I don't know."

  • As Jimmy prepares to leave for Little Rock under the pretext of going for wedding clothes and to return nickel-plated shoehorns, he is invited into the bank to meet the clerks and to see the new vault that Annabel's father has just had installed. There

[T]he two children, May and Agatha, were delighted by the shining metal and funny clock and knobs.

Of course, one of the children runs into the vault; the door which has not had the timer yet set slams shut on the...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

girl.  Meanwhile,

...Ben Price sauntered in and leaned on his elbow, looking casually inside between the railings. He told the teller that he didn't want anything;he was just waiting for a man he knew.

  • Because no one can open the safe, Jimmy feels compelled to set to work on the lock. 

He looked at her [Annabel] with a queer, soft smile on his lips and in his keen eyes

as he relinquishes his new life. However, the reader is unprepared for the surprise ending that gives meaning to the title. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team