"After Twenty Years" Characters

The main characters in “After Twenty Years” are Jimmy Wells, “Silky” Bob, and the plainclothes police officer.

  • Jimmy Wells is a forty-year-old New York City patrol officer, described by Bob as a true friend but “kind of a plodder.” After recognizing his old friend as a wanted man, Jimmy has Bob arrested.
  • “Silky” Bob is a thirty-eight-year-old Chicago criminal who is proud of his successful career. He remembers Jimmy fondly but ultimately underestimates and fails to recognize him.
  • The plainclothes police officer impersonates Jimmy Wells in order to arrest Bob after being tipped off by Jimmy himself.


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Last Updated on November 6, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 757

Jimmy Wells

Jimmy Wells is a New York City police officer. He is forty years old at the time when the story takes place and joined the police force at some point during the previous twenty years. In worldly terms, he has not been particularly successful, as he is still a patrolman and has not risen through the ranks of the police force. However, he is presented in the story as a dignified and respectable figure and a commanding presence in the city where he keeps order.

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The reader hears most about Jimmy’s character from Bob, at a point in the story when neither Bob himself nor the reader knows that Jimmy is listening. Bob describes Jimmy as “the finest chap in the world.” He later says that Jimmy is true and "stanch" and would never forget his appointment or his friend, even after twenty years. Bob’s only criticism of Jimmy is that he is “kind of a plodder,” without the initiative and ambition to make something of his life.

The reader’s view of Jimmy is likely to be similar to Bob’s but not exactly the same. Jimmy does not appear to be a particularly imaginative or dynamic character, but he is good at his job, in the sense of being adept as well as being trustworthy. He quickly recognizes Bob, both as his old friend and as a wanted man, and prevents himself from doing or saying anything that would allow Bob to recognize him, despite the fact that Bob is expecting to meet him there. In this sense, he surpasses his old friend in shrewdness. He carefully checks that Bob intends to remain in the same place for at least half an hour before leaving him. This demonstrates that, although Jimmy is sentimental enough to avoid arresting his old friend personally, his first concern is with performing his duty as a police officer and ensuring that the criminal has no opportunity to escape. He therefore stands as an archetype of the public official who is able to entertain personal feelings but finally puts his duty before every other consideration.

“Silky” Bob

Bob is presented first as a man who has returned to New York at the age of thirty-eight, having spent the last forty years making a fortune somewhere in the West. It is only at the end of the story that the reader discovers he is not a gold miner or a rancher, but a career criminal. There are, however, some hints of his dishonesty earlier in the story. One is his sudden, nervous speech upon being approached by a police officer. As Jimmy walks toward him, he speaks quickly, explaining his presence before the other...

(The entire section contains 757 words.)

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