A Retrieved Reformation by O. Henry
In A Retrieved Reformation by O. Henry we have the theme of change, love, honesty, redemption, determination and identity. Taken from his Selected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Henry may be exploring the theme of change. Jimmy though he continues to rob safes when he is released from prison changes when he meets Annabel. The life he had previously known and lived changes dramatically with his main focus being on earning an honest living by opening a shoe shop. The reader aware that the driving factor for Jimmy’s change of lifestyle is triggered by his love for Annabel. If anything it is by loving Annabel that Jimmy redeems himself. However it is also noticeable that he wishes for his tools of the trade (suitcase) to go to good use. Hence his letter to Billy. This may be important as it suggests that Jimmy, though he is no longer a thief still nonetheless sees the benefit of someone else using his work tools. Which may suggest that Jimmy possibly believes in an honour among thieves. He has formed friendships with others who would live their lives on the other side of the law and as such knows that his work tools will be of benefit to them.
It is also interesting that Jimmy finds it difficult to stop robbing safes when he first leaves prison. It is possible that he lacks motivation to change his life and it is only when he meets Annabel that he truly feels motivated or willing to change his life. It is also possible that Henry is suggesting that prison as a punishment does not redeem or reform a person which is very much the case for Jimmy. As soon as he leaves prison he is robbing safes again running the risk of being caught by Ben Price. Who has taken a personal interest in Jimmy’s activities having had previous experience with Jimmy. It might also be a case that Henry, by playing with the name Spencer and Valentine, is highlighting to the reader just how difficult it can be for a person who has been in prison to change their life. Rather than sticking with the name Spencer when Jimmy goes to Elmore Henry switches names from Spencer to Valentine. Depending on the situation that Jimmy might face. In many ways Henry is playing with identity and possibly highlighting just how intertwined a person’s identity (new and old) is. Though Jimmy had taken the name Ralph Spencer he may never forget that he is Jimmy Valentine even if he has changed as a person.
Ben Price’s character may also be important as by introducing him into the story Henry may be exploring the theme of determination. Price knows that Jimmy is back robbing safes and is determined to catch him. If anything both Jimmy and Price have two things in common. They are both dedicated to their jobs (robbing safes and a policeman) and both are determined with Jimmy set on marrying Annabel and Price determined to catch Jimmy. The only real difference between both men is that they are on opposite sides of the law. Both remain focused on their endeavours albeit for different reasons. If anything both men are connected in a way though again for different reasons. Jimmy living his life on the opposite side of the law while Price lives his life chasing criminals. Another thing that they have in common is honesty. One would expect a policeman to be honest and Price is. Jimmy too is honest when he is driven by love.
The end of the story is also interesting as Henry appears to be further exploring the theme of honesty. Jimmy through his actions of opening the safe in Elmore has exposed himself as being a thief. He has risked everything to help somebody else. The life he was living as a shoe salesman is now exposed as being a partial lie. However it is interesting that Price can see exactly what Jimmy has done. Rather than attempting to rob the safe for his own good he has freed Agatha from the safe. Where previously Jimmy had robbed for his own advantage now he has used the tools of his trade to help somebody else. Something that Price is very much aware of. It is for this reason that Price doesn’t arrest Jimmy. He knows that Jimmy is a changed man. Prison hasn’t changed Jimmy rather his love for Annabel and his new found life with her is the trigger for change. Something that Price again is aware of. There is a sense that Price knows that it would be pointless to put Jimmy back in prison when all he has really done is to help somebody else. All of Jimmy’s previous safe breaking had been for Jimmy’s own benefit but on this occasion he has honestly tried to help another human being. If anything love has reformed Jimmy and Price knows it. Jimmy is to remain a free man allowed to follow his dream of marrying Annabel.