After Twenty Years


O. Henry

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Themes and Colors
Loyalty vs. Duty Theme Icon
Time and Identity Theme Icon
Appearance, Character, and Morals Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in After Twenty Years, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Loyalty vs. Duty

O. Henry’s short story, “After Twenty Years,” explores the conflict between personal loyalty and professional duty. The story takes place on the night two childhood friends, Jimmy and Bob, had agreed to meet before they parted ways 20 years  earlier. Since that time, however, the two friends have become very different people, a fact which challenges their loyalty to one another. In particular, Jimmy’s discovery that Bob is a criminal forces him to choose…

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Time and Identity

The short story “After Twenty Years” explores the relationship between time and identity. In fact, the central tension of the story is whether the two main characters, Jimmy and Bob, once close friends who grew up together in New York, will keep their 20-year-old promise to meet and will pick up their friendship where it left off. However, in the 20 years since they last saw each other, they have taken vastly different paths…

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Appearance, Character, and Morals

In “After Twenty Years,” O. Henry uses physical details—from the rainy New York night to brilliant flashes of electric lights—to create atmosphere and even foreshadow elements of the story. Most strikingly, Jimmy and Bob’s appearances clue readers into aspects of their respective characters. For instance, Jimmy’s upright and law-abiding persona is reflected through his “watchful eye,” “stalwart form,” skillful twirling of his club, and confident gait. Thus, not only is he a police officer…

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