After Twenty Years


O. Henry

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Appearance, Character, and Morals Theme Analysis

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.
Appearance, Character, and Morals Theme Icon

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, but he physically embodies the characteristics of one – he “makes a fine picture of a guardian of the peace.” On the other hand, Bob’s criminal status is mirrored in his pale face, “keen eyes,” and “white scar,” features that hint at a troubled past. Despite his ill-gotten wealth—made evident by his diamond-encrusted scarf pin and watch—Bob does not seem to be doing well physically. His moral depravity seems to have taken physical form, giving him the appearance of an overly wary, sick person. Even before making both men’s identities obvious, then, O. Henry uses physical appearance to signal that each man’s character has developed and degraded in specific ways over the decades. As such, he suggests that while physical appearance can’t reveal everything about a person, it can certainly reflect their moral trajectory.

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Appearance, Character, and Morals ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Appearance, Character, and Morals appears in each chapter of After Twenty Years. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Appearance, Character, and Morals Quotes in After Twenty Years

Below you will find the important quotes in After Twenty Years related to the theme of Appearance, Character, and Morals.
After Twenty Years  Quotes

Trying doors as he went, twirling his club with many intricate and artful movements, turning now and then to cast his watchful eye adown the pacific thoroughfare, the officer, with his stalwart form and slight swagger, made a fine picture of a guardian of the peace.

Related Characters: Jimmy Wells
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

But I know Jimmy will meet me here if he’s alive, for he always was the truest staunchest chap in the world. He’ll never forget. I came a thousand miles to stand in this door to-night, and it’s worth it if my old partner shows up.

Related Characters: Bob (speaker), Jimmy Wells
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

You bet! I hope Jimmy has done half as well. He was a good kind of plodder, though, good fellow as he was. A man gets in a groove in New York. It takes the West to put a razor-edge on him.

Related Characters: Bob (speaker), Jimmy Wells
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

“You’re not Jimmy Wells,” he snapped. “Twenty years is a long time, but not long enough to change a man’s nose from a Roman to a pug.”

“It sometimes changes a good man into a bad one,” said the tall man. “You’ve been under arrest for ten minutes.”

Related Characters: Bob (speaker), Plainclothes Police Officer (speaker), Jimmy Wells
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis: