A Retrieved Reformation

by

O. Henry

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Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer Character Analysis

The protagonist of “A Retrieved Reformation,” Jimmy is a safecracker and thief living in the American Midwest in the early 1900s. When first introduced, the well-connected Jimmy is being released from prison after serving just ten months of a four-year sentence for robbery. Jimmy initially responds to his freedom with disregard, quickly resuming his life of crime. It is clear that Jimmy has not been rehabilitated; his punishment was a sham and he has no intention of working an honest job. Yet despite Jimmy’s criminal lifestyle, he remains a kind and likeable character. Indeed, Jimmy is witty and compassionate, and he is undeniably a dedicated and skilled safecracker. After a succession of burglaries, Jimmy attracts the attention of Ben Price—the very police detective who had arrested him in Springfield, resulting in his incarceration in the first place. After then traveling to the town of Elmore in search of fresh safes to crack, he falls in love with Annabel Adams, the daughter of a local bank owner. His love for Annabel changes Jimmy, and he adopts the identity of Ralph D. Spencer, an honest shoe salesman. As Ralph, Jimmy finally lives the straight life, wins the heart of Annabel, and gains the respect of her family and the entire town. He even decides to gift his suitcase of burglar’s tools to an old friend in Little Rock, convinced that he “wouldn’t do another crooked thing for the whole world.” On the surface, Jimmy has been rehabilitated by Annabel; however, since Jimmy is not who he pretends to be, their relationship is based on a lie and therefore on shaky ground. It is not until he sacrifices his identity as Ralph, by saving Agatha, Annabel’s niece, when she becomes accidentally locked in Mr. Adams’s safe, that Jimmy is fully redeemed for his past sins. Through cracking the safe, Jimmy, in part, betrays his true identity—risking his relationship with Annabel in the process. He sacrifices Ralph D. Spencer so that Agatha may live, thereby using his criminal trade for good. In that moment, Jimmy is wholly reformed.

Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer Quotes in A Retrieved Reformation

The A Retrieved Reformation quotes below are all either spoken by Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer or refer to Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Modern Library edition of A Retrieved Reformation published in 1994.
A Retrieved Reformation Quotes

[T]he warden handed Jimmy his pardon, which had been signed that morning by the governor. Jimmy took it in a tired kind of way. He had served nearly ten months of a four-year sentence. He had expected to stay only about three months, at the longest. When a man with as many friends on the outside as Jimmy Valentine had is received in the “stir” it is hardly worth while to cut his hair.

Page Number: 117-8
Explanation and Analysis:

“Now, Valentine,” said the warden, “you’ll go out in the morning. Brace up, and make a man of yourself. You’re not a bad fellow at heart. Stop cracking safes, and live straight.”

Related Characters: Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer (speaker), The Warden (speaker)
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

“How was it you happened to get sent up on that Springfield job? Was it because you wouldn’t prove an alibi for fear of compromising somebody in extremely high-toned society?”

Related Characters: The Warden (speaker), Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

The clerk handed him a railroad ticket and the five-dollar bill with which the law expected him to rehabilitate himself into good citizenship and prosperity. The warden gave him a cigar, and shook hands. Valentine, 9762, was chronicled on the books “Pardoned by the Governor,” and Mr. James Valentine walked out into the sunshine.

Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

“Sorry we couldn’t make it sooner, Jimmy, me boy,” said Mike. “But we had that protest from Springfield to buck against, and the governor nearly balked. Feeling all right?”

Related Characters: Mike Dolan (speaker), Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Pulling out from the wall a folding-bed, Jimmy slid back a panel in the wall and dragged out a dust-covered suitcase. He opened this and gazed fondly at the finest set of burglar’s tools in the East. It was a complete set, made of specially tempered steel, the latest designs in drills, punches, braces and bits, jimmies, clamps, and augers, with two or three novelties invented by Jimmy himself, in which he took pride.

Related Characters: Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer
Related Symbols: Jimmy’s Tools
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

A young lady crossed the street, passed him at the corner and entered a door over which was the sign “The Elmore Bank.” Jimmy Valentine looked into her eyes, forgot what he was, and became another man.

Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Ralph Spencer, the phoenix that arose from Jimmy Valentine’s ashes—ashes left by a sudden and alternative attack of love—remained in Elmore, and prospered.

Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

“Annabel,” he said, “give me that rose you are wearing, will you?”

Hardly believing that she heard him aright, she unpinned the bud from the bosom of her dress, and placed it in his hand. Jimmy stuffed it into his vest-pocket, threw of his coat and pulled up his shirt-sleeves. With that act Ralph D. Spencer passed away and Jimmy Valentine took his place.

Related Characters: Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer (speaker), Annabel Adams, Agatha
Related Symbols: Annabel’s Rose
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

From that time on [Jimmy] seemed to be unconscious of the presence of any one else. He laid out the shining, queer implements swiftly and orderly, whistling softly to himself as he always did when at work. In a deep silence and immovable, the others watched him as if under a spell.

Related Symbols: Jimmy’s Tools
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

“Hello, Ben!” said Jimmy, still with his strange smile. “Got around at last, have you? Well, let’s go. I don’t know that it makes much difference, now.”

Related Characters: Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer (speaker), Ben Price
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

“Guess you’re mistaken, Mr. Spencer,” he said. “Don’t believe I recognize you. Your buggy’s waiting for you, ain’t it?”

Related Characters: Ben Price (speaker), Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:
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Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer Character Timeline in A Retrieved Reformation

The timeline below shows where the character Jimmy Valentine/Ralph D. Spencer appears in A Retrieved Reformation. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Retrieved Reformation
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and the Law Theme Icon
Jimmy Valentine is hard at work in the prison shoe-shop when a guard comes to escort... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
Justice and the Law Theme Icon
The warden advises Jimmy to stop cracking safes and live straight, reminding him that he’s “not a bad fellow... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and the Law Theme Icon
The next morning, Jimmy is released from the penitentiary wearing prison-issued clothing. He is given a railroad ticket and... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Justice and the Law Theme Icon
After three hours on the train, Jimmy arrives at a town near the Arkansas state line and goes directly to Mike Dolan’s... (full context)
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Once upstairs, Jimmy finds his room “just as he had left it,” and notices Ben Price’s collar-button on... (full context)
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
...an amount large enough to attract the attention of detective Ben Price. Price immediately suspects Jimmy—after all, he is the only burglar with the skills and the tools to actually pull... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Jimmy, with his suitcase of burglar’s tools, hitches a ride on a horse-drawn wagon delivering mail... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
Jimmy walks to the nearby Planters’ Hotel and registers as Ralph D. Spencer. He claims to... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
Living in Elmore, Jimmy becomes “Mr. Ralph Spencer, the phoenix that arose from Jimmy Valentine’s ashes—ashes left by the... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
Jimmy writes a letter and mails it to his old friend in St. Louis. In the... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
Meanwhile, detective Ben Price quietly arrives in Elmore, still in pursuit of Jimmy for the Jefferson City break-in. He spends some time snooping about town and finds Jimmy... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
The next day, after having breakfast with Annabel and her family, Jimmy readies himself to deliver his suitcase of burglar’s tools to Little Rock. He also has... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
Jimmy walks downtown with Annabel’s entire family, including her father, Mr. Adams, her sister, and her... (full context)
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
...steel bolts, and a time-lock. Mr. Adams explains the inner workings of the safe to Ralph, who shows “a courteous but not too intelligent interest.” May and Agatha are clearly fascinated... (full context)
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Justice and the Law Theme Icon
As Mr. Adams engages Ralph, bragging about his new safe, Ben Price walks undetected into the bank. He stands around... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
...isn’t a man nearer than Little Rock who can open that door.” He turns to Jimmy, desperately seeking advice on how to proceed, but resigns himself to the worst. Annabel, not... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
 Smiling, Jimmy asks Annabel for the rose that is pinned to her dress. Confused, Annabel unpins the... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
As Jimmy begins to work, freeing Agatha from the safe, he seems to be unaware of those... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Jimmy puts on his coat and begins to walk toward the other side of the oak... (full context)
Love and Redemption  Theme Icon
Work, Ethics, and Morality Theme Icon
Change and Identity Theme Icon
Justice and the Law Theme Icon
Ben Price stands blocking the front door of the bank. Jimmy greets Price warmly with a smile, stating, “Got around at last, have you? Well, let’s... (full context)