After Twenty Years

by O. Henry

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Compare and contrast Bob and Jimmy in "After Twenty Years."

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In "After Twenty Years," Bob and Jimmy both have long memories and a strong sense of loyalty. However, Jimmy is a less daring and more strictly moral character, whose personal feelings are overridden by his sense of public duty.

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It is clear that both Jimmy and Bob in “After Twenty Years” have long memories and a deep attachment to one another. They both recall and honor the pact they made twenty years earlier, and Bob, as he waits, has no doubt that if Jimmy is still alive, he will be there, “for he always was the truest, staunchest old chap in the world.”

Bob later describes Jimmy as “kind of a plodder,” not the type of person who would be likely to make a spectacular success in any field, as Bob has clearly done in the arena of organized crime. Jimmy is therefore characterized as less daring and more moral than Bob. He does not appear ambitious and has not been particularly successful, but he has remained honest. He is more observant than Bob, however, since he recognizes his old friend immediately, while the passage of years and the patrolman’s uniform combine to deceive Bob.

Bob and Jimmy also display different ethical priorities. Although Bob has embarked on a criminal career, he still has moral values which stress the importance of personal loyalty. His friendship with Jimmy is important enough for him to run a serious risk to keep his word. Jimmy, however, puts a higher value on public duty. He has enough sentimentality about his friendship with Bob to avoid arresting his old friend personally but not enough to help him escape punishment.

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Although Bob and Jimmy used to be close friends back in the day, on the face of it, it doesn't seem like they have a whole lot in common anymore. "Silky" Bob, as he's known, has carved out a successful career as a criminal, which enables him to enjoy the trappings of wealth, such as fine clothes. Jimmy, on the other hand, has become one of New York's finest, dedicated to ridding the Big Apple of criminals like his former friend.

Another notable difference between the two men is that Bob, unlike Jimmy, is quite ambitious. A restless soul, he headed out West to seek his fortune, making his name as a career criminal. Jimmy, on the other hand, couldn't be dragged away from his home town, which is why Bob is certain that his old pal will turn up for their long-planned reunion at Big Joe Brady's in New York.

This leads us to one striking similarity between Jimmy and Bob: they both value their friendship enough to make good on that commitment they made some twenty years previously. Though their lives in the meantime may have taken radically different paths, they clearly still retain good memories of their younger days, when they were such good friends. And though one may be a career criminal and the other a cop, they both place a high value on friendship.

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Although Bob and Jimmy were best friends as boys, as adults they became two very different types of men. They were both from New York City, and they were only two years apart in age, with Jimmy being two years older. As young men of eighteen and twenty, they hadn't yet decided upon their respective career paths. Both felt equally committed to their relationship and so agreed to meet in twenty years to compare notes. Each of them remains true to that promise and arrives at the appointed meeting place at the appointed time.

Even at the time they parted ways, they had some differences. Jimmy thought New York was the best place on earth and never wanted to leave it, while Bob was interested in going west and making his fortune. Twenty years later, they had diverged significantly in their way of life and values. Bob, now known as "Silky Bob," chose a life of crime, which led to his being wanted by the law in Chicago. He became wealthy by competing "with some of the sharpest wits going," but that means he probably tried to outsmart other criminals as well as deceive honest men in order to get his riches. Nevertheless, he is proud of his achievements.

Jimmy Wells, whom Bob describes as always having been a "plodder," became a law enforcement officer. Bob says he "always was the truest, staunchest old chap in the world." This proves to be a correct analysis of Jimmy's character. Jimmy did his best to remain true to their friendship, but he also valued truth and honesty, which meant he had to have his friend arrested. Jimmy seems humble; he doesn't lord it over Bob but sends another officer to take Bob into custody.

Both men are apparently intelligent and clever, but Jimmy proves to have the sharper wit in the end, which allows him to fulfill his "destiny" more successfully than Bob does, since Jimmy will continue his police work while Bob's days as a criminal are presumably over.

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How would describe Jimmy and Bob's personalities in "After Twenty Years?"

Jimmy Wells (Patrolman Wells) is a loyal and trustworthy friend. He was at "the appointed place," but couldn't bring himself to arrest his friend.

"Silky" Bob, might be considered a loyal friend too because he showed up "After Twenty Years" as well. The difference is the two paths that each took over their lives. Bob became a thief while Jimmy led a more honorable life.

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