A Retrieved Reformation Questions and Answers
by O. Henry

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Why was Jimmy Valentine determined to reform in "A Retrieved Reformation"?

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In "A Retrieved Reformation" there are several factors that all contribute to Jimmy Valentine's determination to reform. For one thing, he realizes that it is getting more difficult for him to stay out of prison and more difficult to get out of prison once he is in. He is not elated but somewhat disappointed when he gets his pardon.

There the warden handed Jimmy his pardon, which had been signed that morning by the governor. Jimmy took it in a tired kind of way. He had served nearly ten months of a four year sentence. He had expected to stay only about three months, at the longest.

Then the next day his friend Mike Dolan tells him they had a hard time getting him pardoned.

“Sorry we couldn't make it sooner, Jimmy, me boy,” said Mike. “But we had that protest from Springfield to buck against, and the governor nearly balked. Feeling all right?”

Jimmy feels he is building up a long record and is in danger of becoming a loser like most of the men he met in prison. But the big turning point in his life is when he falls in love with Annabel Adams at first sight.

A young lady crossed the street, passed him at the corner and entered a door over which was the sign “The Elmore Bank.” Jimmy Valentine looked into her eyes, forgot what he was, and became another man. 

Jimmy opens a shoe business in the town of Elmore, Arkansas and starts to prosper. He changes his name to Ralph Spencer. He finds that the brains and personality that have served him so well as a criminal can also be used to make him successful as a businessman once he goes straight. He becomes engaged to Annabel and is welcomed by her family. He has quickly become an important member of the community. He likes the feeling of being accepted by honest citizens and not having to be continually running and hiding from the law.

His realization that his life as a career criminal is becoming more precarious, his love for Annabel Adams, and his success as an honest businessman all make Jimmy determined to reform. He knows that the innocent Annabel could never love him if she knew he was a criminal. He decides to get rid of his  set of deluxe burglar tools and lead an honest life. He writes to an old cronie to whom he is giving the suitcase full of tools:

Say, Billy, I've quit the old business—a year ago. I've got a nice store. I'm making an honest living, and I'm going to marry the finest girl on earth two weeks from now. It's the only life, Billy—the straight one. I wouldn't touch a dollar of another man's money now for a million. 

For a few tense moments it looks as if Jimmy's decision to go straight was made too late; but Ben Price has seen him rescue the little girl trapped in the bank vault and understands that Jimmy has become a reformed man. When Jimmy greets him, expecting to be arrested and to lose everything he has gained in the past year, Ben Price tells him:

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

And Ben Price turned and strolled down the street.

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