AFTER TWENTY YEARS BY O’HENRY
After Twenty Years is a story of two friends who meet after twenty years at the appointed place and time. I have already published the full study notes of this story here and in this post, I am answering some more questions which are very important for students to go through.
‘After Twenty Years’ is written by William Sydney Porter an- American writer, under the pseudonym O’ Hennery. His adopting a pseudonym had definite reasons mainly his having been sentenced by the federal court to be behind the bars for 6 months as punishment for embezzlement during his first appointment as a banking assistant. While serving the term, he decided to shift from his home town New York to Chicago and live under a made-up name to avoid being jeered at. On emerging out of prison, he joined journalism and simultaneously started working at a short story, novel and other such genres. Eventually, he excelled in the art of short story and Novel. With the passage of time, he rose to the status of National Writer and came to be regarded as Guy De Maupassant of America so far as the genre of the short story is concerned.
‘After Twenty Years’ is one of the best short stories by O’ Henery, the topmost being – the gift of Maggie which has got him the rank of G.D.Muppasant of America. His novels and short stories are based on certain distinctive characteristics namely:
1. Chance occurrence
2. Flash Back Technique
3. Sudden ending
4. Tragi Comic ending
The main characters in the short story ‘ After Twenty Years’ namely Jimmy and Bob exhibit contrasting personality traits e.g. While Jimmy is a homesick sort of Guy, Bob represents dynamism and dash.
Jimmy is a contented sort of personality, Bob does not rest content but aspires always for more. Bob presents a typical example of American slogan of success i.e. hitch your wagon to the star – and the end justifies the means. He works all through his life to realize the dream but unfortunately over much success leads him astray and as such he ends as an underworld character- a smuggler and enemy of peace.
Jimmy presents the picture of a duty-bound citizen with controlled ego and tight-reined ambition. He subordinates everything to his discharging legitimate duties. He ends up with being a real guardian of peace while as his childhood friend and the best chum ends up behind the bars as an enemy of peace
SHORT SUMMARY OF AFTER TWENTY YEARS BY O’HENRY
The story is about two young bosom friends, Jimmy wells and Bob. They make a commitment to meet each other exactly after twenty years at the same place and on the same date and time, they part ways.
The story opens with an impressive policeman doing patrol duty late in a cold windy night on a nearly deserted street. It is the same spot where the two friends had promised to meet that night. Near the doorway of a darkened hardware store which had come up there in place of Big Joe Brady‘s restaurant, the policeman encounters a stranger. The square-jawed stranger‘s dress tells that he is wealthy. As he lights his cigar the policeman recognizes him but does not give him inkling. The man, trying to make sure the policeman does not suspect him, narrates the whole story of his life to the policeman and his purpose of standing there at such a late hour.
The man keeps on waiting. Then after about twenty minutes a tall man wearing a long overcoat directly approaches the waiting man and calls him by his name Bob. Bob mistakes the man for his real friend, Jimmy Wells. After a while, Bob recognizes it is not Jimmy. The tall man tells Bob that he is already under arrest. Before taking him to the police station, he hands Bob a note. The note clearly mentions that he was going to be arrested by the first officer on patrol duty. But he, being Bob‘s friend, Jimmy, could not bring himself to do it so he sent that plain clothes man from the police station to do the job.
DETAILED SUMMARY OF AFTER TWENTY YEARS BY O’HENRY
A short story–multi-thematic one dealing as it does with quite a number of themes simultaneously. The primary one being ‘Ego’….controlling human personalities. Written by W.S. Porter, an American National writer under pseudonym O’Henery.
The short story revolves around two main characters viz; Jim and Bob hailing from New York city of America— number one Metropolitan city of the world where life goes on and on all the twenty-four hours a day. The two chums actually represent and symbolize two sides of a single coin… two facets of Ego namely controlled one and uncontrolled one….the former promising calm, quiet, peaceful and contented life…..may or may not be too luxurious while as the later …..uncontrolled ego lands one always in trouble turmoil and discontent but bringing in timely and short-lived luxury. Jimmy represents controlled Ego while as Bob symbolizes uncontrolled one or egotism enlarged by underserved success.
The short story is based on four main features namely Chance Occurrence, Flashback technique, all too sudden an ending and uncertain finale i.e.; tragicomic finale. J. Wells, a homesick personality doesn’t agree to venture out of New York considering it to be the only place on the surface of the earth where one could be safe and comfortable. Due to lack of enterprise and dynamism, he ends up with being just a patrolman but lives a contented life. On the other hand Bob, a dashing and dynamic personality, always bent upon growing richer overnight, leaves for Central America to try his luck and joins the underworld just to satiate his lust for luxury and, as is inevitable, ends up in prison behind bars. Needless to say that he lives every second of his life in fear.
The story opens with the police walking down an avenue of Pacific thoroughfare quite impressively- the impressiveness being habitual and not speak the show because of the avenue being deserted and de-peopled quite early as a result of extremely bad weather characterized by chilly gusts of wind with a taste of rain in them and the nature (character) of the locality itself namely it’s being frequented by business establishments only that kept early hours. While on his official stroll, the policeman spots a man leaning in the darkened doorway of a hardware store with an unlighted cigar in his mouth.
The policeman slows down his walk and moves across the street towards the waiting man who is none other than Bob, the patrol man’s best chum who had parted from him twenty years before to work out his destiny but on a promise to return to New York after Twenty years to meet him. Bob panics on finding the patrolman approaching him and speaks up quickly to assure the policeman that he had no malignant intention and was just waiting for a friend. This statement by the waiting man makes the other realize that he (waiting man) is his friend Bob. However, as ill-luck would have it, the waiting man strikes a match to light his cigar and under its flicker, the policeman recognizes that the waiting man’s face resembles exactly the details in the text wired by the Chicago police. So he holds back disclosing his identity, moves around and sends a plain clothes’ man who arrests Bob but not before handing down to him rather a short note from Wells revealing that he was at the appointed place on time out, under obligation of his duty, he held back his identity and did what he was supposed to do as a dutiful citizen that is to get anti-social element, a smuggler, an underworld character arrested and booked by the law.
Questions And Answers of After Twenty Years
Q. How impressive was the policeman? How would you justify your answer?
Ans. The policeman was not snobbish. He was impressive but it was not for show. When he moved up the avenue, there were no people or a few people around him as it was 10 o’clock at night and the gusts of wind and a taste of shower had depeopled the street. Thus, his impressiveness just habitual. He was absorbed in his duty and his watchful eyes reflect that he was an honest policeman.
Q. Why did the man tell the policeman ‘It’s all right, officer.’?
Ans. The man was standing in the doorway of a darkened hardware store with an unlighted cigar in his mouth. When the policeman with watchful eyes came near to the man the man quickly told him that it was an alright office. He told him so because he wanted to assure him that he was not any criminal or was not there to harm anyone. He was waiting for his friend with whom he has had fixed an appointment to meet at the place and the time.
Q. Were the two friends in regular contact with each other during the twenty years? Why or why not?
Ans. The two friends were not in regular contact with each. After parting, they had contact with each other for a year or two but after that, they lost the track of each other because both of them busied themselves to work out their destiny and make their future.
Q. How well did Jimmy’s friend prosper in life? How do you know?
Ans. Jimmy friend’s prospered well life. In the west, he had made his fortune. This is clear from his being in possession of a large diamond scarf pin. He had also a handsome watch the lids of which set with diamonds. These are clear indications that he had turned rich.
Q. When a tall man in a long overcoat walked up the bob, what made him think that it was Jimmy, not anyone else?
Ans. Bob was standing in the doorway of a darkened hardware store where there had been once their favourite restaurant, a man came towards him shortly around the prefixed time on a night. Bob assumed that he was Jimmy. Who else could come out at night and walk towards an unknown man that that too who is not visible in the darkness at the doorway of a hardware store which is closed?
Also, Jimmy and Bob parted twenty years before when Bob was eighteen and Jimmy twenty. Bob assumed that Jimmy had grown taller since the time because he was young when they parted and a man could grow till the age of 25. These certain clues made Bob think that the tall man in the long overcoat was Jimmy, not anyone else.
Q. Why was Bib arrested?
Ans. Bob was arrested because he was the man wanted in Chicago and it was also Jimmy sworn duty to enforce the law. However, Jimmy valued the friendship as well and for that reason, he sent another policeman to arrest him. The arresting policeman too did not treat him like a dangerous criminal. He even did not handcuff him. Silky Bob’s smooth conversation, manner and confidence also indicate that he might not have a dangerous criminal. He might only have been wanted for questioning. The arresting officer talked to Bob in a polite manner. The plainclothes man says:
“Going quietly, are you? That’s sensible.”
Q. Why did Bob’s hands begin to tremble as he almost finished reading the note?
Ans. When he almost finished reading the note, Bob’ a hand started to tremble because he came to know that the man he talked with earlier was his friend and he had not expected that his friend would turn against him as he did. Bods hands shook because he was feeling stronger emotions. He was shocked, disappointed disgusted, resentful and perhaps frightened. Although it is not clear why he was wanted in Chicago; it could have been something serious that could have some serious consequences upon him.
Q. Why Jimmy did not arrest his friend by himself?
Ans. Jimmy did not arrest his old friend himself because he could not bring his heart to arrest his old friend. But being devoted to his duty he could not free Bob as well and therefore to enforce the law, he sent an undercover man to arrest him.
Q. Why is this story titled ‘After Twenty Years’?
Ans. This story is titled ‘After Twenty Years’ because it is the prearranged meeting of two close friends who meet after twenty years which causes the conflict of the story. During the twenty years, both of the friends have worked out their destiny and made their future. Jimmy wells is now a devoted policeman who enforce the law sworn by him and Silky bob has turned into a criminal who is wanted in Chicago. Both friends meet at the doorway of a darkened hardware store where there was once their favourite restaurant. When Silky Bob lights a match, Jimmy Wells recognises his old friend is a wanted criminal. But after twenty years he has turned more faithful towards his duty than friendship but at the same time, he did not ignore his friendship totally because he does not have the heart to arrest his old friend. He sends a plain clothes man to arrest him. This arresting man carries a letter from Jimmy Wells explaining that he was an appointed place on time but he recognised as the face of a man wanted in Chicago. He could do nothing but send another man to arrest him When he almost finished reading the note, his hands started to tremble because he had not expected that his friend would turn against him as he did. Bods hands shook because he was feeling stronger emotions. He was shocked, disappointed disgusted, resentful and perhaps frightened.
Q. Discuss the theme of After Twenty Years.
Ans. “After Twenty Years” is a multi-thematic story. However, the main theme is that once we are put in a dilemma, we have to choose between our duty and friendship. Jimmy Wells did balance and tried his best to fulfil the demands of both duty and friendship. The story also highlights the fact that in our over-ambition for wealth and possessions, we can stoop too low and use illegal and unethical ways to satisfy our greed and ego.
It also highlights the fact that the stage of age at eighteen to twenty is decisive in one‘s life as one has to make the choice that decides how a person is going to live the rest of his/her life. The decision made at this point in time decides one‘s future as a successful or a defeated person. The message is loud and clear for young adults to think properly and to opt for the right choice to decide what and who you want to be at the age of forty or above.
Characterization in After Twenty Years
The story has two main but contrasting characters namely, Bob and Jimmy Wells. Bob is a young but overambitious with a materialistic mentality. He goes to the west to earn wealth but in doing so he becomes a reckless lawbreaker who uses dishonest and illegal means to amass wealth. Bob is also very egoistic and boastful. He gives an impression that he is very clever and sharp-witted as he had to compete with the best of the talents in the west.
Bob is a true, loyal and devoted friend of Jimmy. He does not forget his commitment made twenty years ago with his bosom friend, Jimmy. With Chicago police after him, Bob puts himself in a lot of risk and travels a distance of one thousand miles to reach the spot of appointment. Though he is a lovable character and wins our sympathy, yet his corrupt practices make him detestable and disappoint even his own friend, Jimmy.
Jimmy Wells is a well-built, handsome young man with elegant manners and impressive style. Unlike his friend he is not egoistic but performs his job of a dutiful police officer with a true heart and without any pretentions. He is also very clever and understands the situation with amazing presence of mind when he recognizes Bob at the doorway of a hardware store and does not give him any inkling of the fact.
Jimmy is a responsible police officer who puts duty before self. He has no hesitation in getting Bob arrested when he recognizes him as a criminal wanted by the police. However, he too proves himself as a staunch and devoted friend. He is at the appointed place well in advance to meet Bob after twenty years. He is a stable character with a balanced mindset. He feels contended in staying in New York and does not let free his ambitions. Thus, he emerges as a lovable and dutiful person.