'After twenty years' summary- A short story by O Henry

'After twenty years' summary

source: archive.org

It is a story about two best friends Jimmy Wells and Bob.

They decide to go down different paths and make a pact to meet at the same place after twenty years.

Bob leaves New York to go try his luck in the West and Jimmy decides to stay and, becomes a cop.

The story opens with a cop walking around the deserted streets of New York in the evening, doing his duty and checking the locks of every establishment and business that he passes by.

He finds a man standing in the doorway of a hardware store. The man has an unlit cigar in his hand. On enquiring, he tells the cop that he is waiting for an old friend who he had promised to meet at the very place 20 years ago before going West.

He tells the cop that he is waiting for Jimmy Wells, his old friend, with whom he had spent his childhood as a brother.

While talking to the cop, the man lights his cigar and in that brief illumination, the cop notices that the man has a pale face, a scar near his right eyebrow and sharp eyes. The glint of a diamond on the man’s scarf tells a lot about his riches, and when he pulls out his diamond-studded watch to check the time, the cop comments that he must have done really well in the West.

The man boasts that he has and wishes that his plodder friend has done at least half of what he has achieved. He is sure that his friend - if he is alive, will definitely meet him as promised, no matter what, for his friend is "the truest, stanchest old chap in the world."

The cop goes on his way, the rain starts to fall and the man keeps waiting.

After a few minutes, a man arrives and introduces himself as Jimmy. Bob is happy to find his friend and both men share pleasantries.

Bob notices that Jimmy has changed, in fact, was taller than he remembered. Jimmy says that he grew a bit after 20.

Jimmy insists that since the old restaurant (where they had had their last meal together 20 years ago) is not there anymore, they should go to some other place.

As they pass the street light, Bob looks at his friend's face and says that though 20 years can change a man in many ways, it rarely changes the shape of a man's nose.

He asks if he is Jimmy.

The other man says that he is not and that Bob has been under arrest for the past 10 minutes. He tells him to come with him quietly and hands him a letter, which says:

“Bob: I was at the place on time. I saw the face of the man wanted by Chicago cops. I didn’t want to arrest you myself. So I went and got another cop and sent him to do the job. JIMMY.”

'After twenty years' Devices


‘After twenty years’ by O. Henry is a short story.

Setting & Context

The story takes place in USA New York around 10 at night.

Narrator and Point of View

The story is narrated by an unknown narrator in the third-person.


Somber and reminiscent.


The story revolves around two friends, Bob & Jim, who meet eachother after 20 years & things are quite different from what they had imagined.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is an internal one that doesn't becomes obvious to the reader till the final lines, when the surprise ending of the story unravels.

Foreshadowing (verb; be a warning or indication of (a future event))

O'Henry uses foreshadowing at the end of the short story where he foreshadows the fact that the person who talks to Bob at the end is not Jimmy when Bob says:
"You've changed lots, Jimmy. I never thought you were so tall by two or three inches."

No other case of foreshadowing is used but the narrator provides a few hints are given now and then about Bob being a criminal like the scar on his face, etc).


This is the perfect example of situational irony where the climax a surprise - in "After Twenty Years," we discover that Bob is a criminal but only during the last few lines of the story.