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After Twenty Years

by O. Henry

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What are the different moods in "After Twenty Years"?

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O. Henry's story "After Twenty Years" is a story shrouded with mystery and portents. Here are the moods of this narrative:

  • Mysterious Mood

O. Henry describes his characters as only "the policeman" and "the man in the doorway." As the policeman speaks with the man who stands in the darkened doorway, the man lights his cigar. As he does so, he reveals a scar near his right eyebrow and a large diamond as a scarfpin. Then, he pulls out a watch set with small diamonds, suggesting a character who is flashy and proud of his wealth.
The policeman notices these things, but says little. He does ask the stranger if he has heard from his friend, as well as how long he will wait for his friend before he walks on down the street. 

  • Portentous Mood

As the man in the doorway waits past the set time for his old friend to appear, he sees a tall man with his overcoat collar turned up hurrying across the street and heading toward him.
After they greet each other, the stranger remarks,

"You've changed lots, Jimmy. I never thought you were so tall by two or three inches."

"Oh, I grew a bit after I was twenty."

When the man asks Jimmy personal questions, the answers are rather vague. Then, they walk arm-in-arm up the street purportedly toward a restaurant. When they walk by a drug store where there are "brilliant electric lights," the man exclaims, "You're not Jimmy Wells." 

  • Fateful Mood

The tall man responds to the other by saying,

You've been under arrest to ten minutes, "Silky Bob". . . here's a note I was asked to hand to you. . . It's from Patrolman Wells.

The policeman who talked to Bob in the doorway is his old friend. Because they are now on opposite sides of the law, Jimmy Wells has turned Bob in to the authorities. He just did not have the heart to arrest his old friend, so he sent a plainclothes officer.

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What are the different types of moods in the story “After Twenty Years”?

There are several types of moods in the story. First, we'll define the word. "Mood" refers to the atmosphere of the story and is often inspired by tone. The latter is the writer's attitude towards the subject matter or protagonist (or both). "Mood" also inspires an emotional reaction in readers, so it's quite an important story-telling element.

At the beginning of the story, the mood is pleasant, upbeat, and positive. The writer introduces us to a police officer on his rounds. Based on the diction, the writer has full confidence in the officer's abilities. The police officer is described as "strong and important." He's also a "fine-looking cop, watchful, guarding the peace." The police officer (who we later learn is named Jimmy Wells) is a figure that inspires trust.

The mood changes in the middle of the story, however. At the beginning of the story, we learn that a little wind and rain has contributed to the night chill. As the story progresses, we discover that the wind has picked up and the rain is now falling steadily. In response, people look for shelter away from the elements. So, the mood becomes more tense. We get the idea that something ominous is heading our officer's way.

And we aren't mistaken in our emotional reaction: Bob gets apprehended by a police officer masquerading as Jimmy Wells. At the end of the story, the mood is reflective as well as tragic. Instead of having a nice reunion, Bob gets arrested. Yet, we are touched by Jimmy's words in the letter. Instead of arresting his former friend, Jimmy sends someone else to do the job. In this way, Bob will never have the memory of being arrested by a former treasured friend. Jimmy's actions highlight his thoughtful character.

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What are the different types of moods in the story “After Twenty Years”?

Initially, the mood of the story is quite mysterious. It's 10 o'clock at night on a damp, windswept street, and adding to the atmosphere of mystery, the street is eerily quiet, as the inclement weather has cleared the streets of people. This makes the lone figure of "Silky" Bob all the more conspicuous.

Yet there's an air of mystery about the man as he stands in the doorway of a hardware store. Indeed, the true nature of the relationship between Bob and the beat cop who strikes up a conversation with him won't become clear until Bob and the man he wrongly thinks is his old pal Jimmy Wells walk past a drug store on the corner and are suddenly bathed in brilliant electric light. Then, the mood changes completely; there is no more mystery, no more secrets. Jimmy Wells was the beat cop that Bob had been talking to earlier, and he tipped off his colleague to allow him to move in and arrest his old friend.

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