A Retrieved Reformation

by O. Henry

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How are Jimmy Valentine and Ralph Spencer alike and different in "A Retrieved Reformation"?

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Since Jimmy Valentine and Ralph Spencer are the same person, there must be similarities in the hearts of each persona, while there can be differences in mental attitudes.


  •  “You’re not a bad fellow at heart,” the warden tells Jimmy when he is released from prison; this remark indicates that Jimmy has an intrinsic decency that comes out in Ralph Spencer when he cannot leave Agatha in the safe.
  • After Jimmy is released from prison, he heads to a restaurant for a good meal; on the way out he "tossed a quarter into the hat of a blind man." This altruism indicates that Jimmy is the same man as Ralph, who loves Annabel and who is willing to return to prison in order to save the little niece of Annabel.
  • Despite his love for Annabel, as the shoe salesman Ralph Spencer, who is an upright citizen, he is, nevertheless, deceptive in disguising himself as someone else, as is Jimmy, who lies to the warden about having robbed a bank.


  • When Annabel Adams passes Jimmy on the corner of the street, he "looked into her eyes, forgot what he was, and became another man." Shortly after this, Jimmy registers at the Planters' Hotel as Ralph D. Spencer, a new man. Then, he changes his occupation in life, as well, and becomes a fictitious person, rather than a real man.
  • Jimmy looks out for himself while Ralph sacrifices his well-being for the safety of a child dear to his beloved Annabel.
  • With his "retrieved reformation" from detective Ben Price, Jimmy Valentine "dies" and Ralph Spencer lives.
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In what ways are Jimmy Valentine and Ralph Spencer alike in "A Retrieved Reformation" by O. Henry?

Both Jimmy Valentine and Ben Price take a turn for the better. Jimmy decides to stop robbing banks and "go straight" after years of burglary and petty theft.  Then he even puts his own future in jeopardy by using his burglar's tools to pry open a time-set safe in which a little girl is trapped. The little girl does not suffocate, but Jimmy is "found out" and awaits being picked up by Ben Price, a bounty hunter hot on his heels.

Then it is Ben Price's turn to show his better self. Instead of taking Jimmy in to the police station and cashing in on his reward, he pretends as if he doesn't even recognize him and saunters on down the street. He realizes that Jimmy is indeed another man and gives him the chance to get on with his life. In such a way he too is "reformed" in that for once money is not his number one priority.

'Ralph Spencer' is the identity Jimmy has assumed ever since he came to Elmore. Since Spencer and Valentine are one and the same man, of course "they" share similar traits. 'Spencer' has made a great impression on the banker and even courts and wins his daughter, displaying great charm and "social skills." He is still a great manipulator, and still reverts to ruse and lying when the pressure is on (His burglary toolbox, he explains, is full of shoehorns for his shoe store.). But as things turn out, by the end of the story Valentine's alias identity is no longer sham but the real thing.

As O. Henry "did time" too for fraud and embezzlement (and got caught later when he returned to the country to visit his ailing wife), perhaps this story of the second chance is his way of showing that people can indeed change and should not be condemned to a "life sentence" of bad reputation if indeed they have learned from past mistakes.

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