After Twenty Years

by O. Henry

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What are some examples of situational irony in "After Twenty Years"?

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"After Twenty Years" is rich with situational irony. The main instance is Bob's unawareness that he's conversing with Jimmy, the friend he's waiting for, leading to his ironic arrest. Bob misidentifies both the uniformed and plainclothes police officers, confidently mistaking his captor for his old friend. Another example is Jimmy's anticipation of a pleasant reunion, only to realize he must arrest his old friend when recognizing Bob's lit cigar.

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The main situational irony in "After Twenty Years " involves the fact that Bob is waiting for Jimmy and doesn't realize he is actually talking to him. Then when Jimmy leaves, Bob thinks Jimmy didn't show up, but he continues to wait. It is ironic that he doesn't realize...

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that he is waiting to get arrested. Jimmy makes a point of asking him if he is going to be there much longer.

“I'll be on my way. Hope your friend comes around all right. Going to call time on him sharp?”

“I should say not!” said the other. “I'll give him half an hour at least. If Jimmy is alive on earth he'll be here by that time. So long, officer.”

And finally when the plainclothesman posing as Jimmy appears, Bob thinks this is Jimmy arriving to meet him as promised twenty years ago. Bob appears to be a successful confidence man, but he is fooled by both Jimmy and the plainclothes detective. It is also ironic that Bob has traveled a thousand miles only to get himself arrested. A further example of situational irony might be that Jimmy expects to meet his old friend and to go someplace where they can have a long talk about old times. But when Bob lights his cigar, Jimmy realizes that this is the man the Chicago police want apprehended and that he is obligated to arrest him or at least to have him arrested by somebody else. It is ironic that Jimmy was looking forward to a pleasant meeting and ends up feeling disappointed and a little bit guilty. Bob feels sure that the cop is a cop and not Jimmy. He also feels sure the plainclothesman is Jimmy and not a cop. In both cases he is wrong. It is ironic that he strolls up the street arm in arm with the man who is arresting him and ironic that he tells him all about his life of crime during the past twenty years. Bob is a great talker. He hardly allows the uniformed cop or the plainclothes cop to get a word in. Then when they get to the lighted drug store the whole situational mix-up is made clear to the reader. The plainclothes detective tells Bob:

“You've been under arrest for ten minutes, ‘Silky’ Bob."

The fact that the scene is suddenly "brilliant with electric lights" is appropriate to the enlightenment that is going to clarify the train of events for both 'Silky' Bob and the reader.

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Wha type of irony is found in the story "After Twenty Years"?

Both verbal irony and situational irony are identifiable in O. Henry's short story "After Twenty Years." The situational irony is clear, as the twist at the end of the story reveals an unexpected turn of events for Bob; the discrepancy between what actually happened and what Bob expected to happen make a clear case for situational irony.

The verbal irony is more subtly placed, like when Bob says to the cop, "In New York a man doesn’t change much," without realizing that the cop is Jimmy. Clearly, in New York, a man can change a great deal, if Bob can't recognize Jimmy and if Jimmy's attachment to Bob has changed so much that Jimmy chooses to stay on the right side of the law when confronted with the choice. Another example of verbal irony can be found when the cop approaches Bob, pretending to be Jimmy, and says, "We’ll go to a place I know, and have a good long talk about old times." Little does Bob know that the place he knows is likely the precinct and the long talk about old times will not be a friendly one.

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Wha type of irony is found in the story "After Twenty Years"?

O. Henry's story "After Twenty Years" is an example of situational irony. The main ironic twist occurs at the very end. 'Silky' Bob realizes that he has traveled a thousand miles to meet his old friend Jimmy Wells, and in the meantime Jimmy Wells has become a policeman who recognizes Bob as the man wanted by the Chicago police and has him arrested. Irony is usually like a joke that would be funny if it were not painful or even tragic. In situational irony the actual event turns out to be different from what was expected. Bob expected a pleasant meeting with an old pal and ended up being taken off to jail. The reader is just as surprised by this turn of events as 'Silky' Bob. Perhaps Bob should have gotten an intuitive warning when he found that the restaurant where he and Jimmy had agreed to meet after twenty years had been torn down five years ago. This in itself is situational irony. 'Big Joe' Brady's restaurant has been turned into a hardware store. Everything changes. But the main twist of situational irony is reserved for last, when Bob realizes that the man who has him by the arm is not Jimmy Wells and that he had been speaking to Jimmy Wells without knowing it.

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What are examples of irony in "After Twenty Years"?

O. Henry's tale of the fated reunion of two old friends after twenty years involves some surprising contradictions. The most prevalent type of irony is that of situational irony, in which there is an event that occurs a direct contradiction of the expectations of the reader. In addition, there is verbal irony, words used to suggest the opposite of their usual meaning.

  • Verbal irony

When the policeman on his beat sees a man standing in a doorway, he approaches and the man explains that he is waiting for an old friend, whom he has not seen in twenty years.  The policeman notices the man's diamonds and remarks, "Did pretty well out West, did you?" and the stranger replies, "You bet!"  While the policeman is apparently admiring the man's diamonds, he actually is noting the identity of this stranger.

Then, he tells the man in the doorway, "I hope your friend comes around all right."  Since he is actually the "friend," the policeman means other than what he says.

  • Situational irony

When the man that 'Silky' Bob walks with the man who comes to meet him, he believes it is Jimmy Wells. However, when the two men pass under the bright light of a street corner, Bob realizes that the other is not his old friend Jimmy. Then, the undercover policeman informs Bob that he has been under arrest for ten minutes because Patrolman Wells has identified him, but does not have the heart to arrest his old friend himself.

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