After Twenty Years by O. Henry
In After Twenty Years by O. Henry we have the theme of friendship, change, guilt and dedication or loyalty. 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 friendship. Bob has kept his word twenty years after promising Jimmy that he would meet him at the old restaurant in New York. Such dedication suggests that Bob has never forgotten his friendship with Jimmy and it is possible that their friendship has had a deep impact on Bob’s life. As he is talking to the policeman (who in reality is Jimmy) there is a strong sense of camaraderie between Bob and Jimmy. Even if Bob tends to think that Jimmy may not have progressed in life. Though he has no real reason to believe this and is basing his opinion on Jimmy’s life from twenty years ago. This may be important as Bob is not allowing Jimmy the opportunity to change judging him on past experiences. It may also be significant that the setting of the story is night time as by setting the story in the dark Henry may be attempting to mirror the setting with Bob’s knowledge of what Jimmy might be doing now. Bob in reality is very much in the dark about Jimmy’s life. Something that becomes clearer to the reader near the end of the story.
Another interesting aspect of the story is the fact that Bob considers that between him and Jimmy it is himself who might have prospered rather than Jimmy. This idea is not based on any strong foundation rather it is no more than an opinion based again on Jimmy’s past. Bob doesn’t appear to be able to see that a person (Jimmy) might actually change over the passing of time. If anything Bob appears to be stuck in a sense of nostalgia when it comes to his relationship with Jimmy. Though it may be true that both men where friends when they were younger. Bob can’t seem to imagine that Jimmy might have made some progress in his life over the last twenty years. It may also be important that Bob when talking to the cop (Jimmy) praises his own achievements and suggests that those who live in New York may be somewhat paralyzed or lacking in the ability to change their lives. Bob throughout his conversation with the cop focuses more on himself than he does on anybody else. Though he is being nostalgic he does not have the same confidence in Jimmy’s ability to change as much as he has in his own.
Which in many ways is ironic because both men have taken very different paths in life. They no longer are the young men that they had previously been. One is a cop while the other is a criminal. They have chosen to live their lives on opposite sides of the law. Something that Bob may not necessarily have believed possible while standing waiting for Jimmy. Jimmy has taken on a responsible, authoritarian role while Bob’s life has become one of a man more comfortable being on the wrong side of the law. It is as though Bob thrives and considers himself better than others because he lives his life void of any conscious responsibility to the law and the rules of society. Which may suggest that Bob is actually a selfish person however his act of waiting for Jimmy contradicts this. Though again it may be possible that Bob longs to tell Jimmy about how successful his life is now which would again suggest an element of selfishness within Bob. Bob might want to renew his friendship with Jimmy however at the same time he might just want to tell Jimmy how good his life is now.
The end of the story is also interesting as Henry appears to be not only further exploring the theme of dedication but he may also be exploring the theme of guilt. Rather than arresting Bob himself Jimmy sends another policeman to arrest Bob. It is possible that Jimmy still feels a strong bond towards Bob and may have felt guilty should he have been the one who was to arrest an old friend. It is also noticeable that the friendship that exists or existed between Bob and Jimmy does not take precedence over Jimmy’ job as a policeman. Just as he was dedicated to his friendship with Bob when they were younger likewise he is now dedicated to his job as a policeman. Upholding the law is more important to Jimmy than any friendship he may have had with Bob. Which may be important as it suggests that rather than Bob being the one who has changed it is Jimmy who has changed. He views his past as just that his past without getting emotionally attached to it. Unlike Bob who has spent the evening reminiscing and hoping that Jimmy will show up so that they can rekindle their friendship. By the end of the story the reader realises that Jimmy’s job is more important to him than having a friendship with an individual (Bob) who lives his life contrary to how Jimmy lives his.