'After Twenty Years' Summary- A short story by O Henry

summary of the story after twenty years

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After Twenty Years Summary

'After Twenty Years' is a short story by O. Henry about two best friends, Jimmy Wells and Bob, who 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 inquiring, he tells the cop that he is waiting for an old friend whom 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. He adds that Jimmy is like a brother to him, with whom he had spent the golden years of his childhood.

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 starts to rain 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, he is taller than he remembered. Jimmy says that he grew a bit after 20.

Jimmy insists that since the old restaurant (where they 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 Literary Devices & Critical Analysis 


‘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 each other after 20 years & things are quite different from what they had imagined.

Major Conflict

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

Foreshadowing [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 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 is a surprise. In "After Twenty Years," we discover that Bob is a criminal but only during the last few lines of the story.

 After 20 Years - Character Analysis

In the short story “After Twenty Years" by O. Henry, there are only 3 characters. Each character plays an important role and has different characterizations. As the story moves forward they develop and evolve which makes them stand apart with strong identities. 


Though it is a story of two friends, our first protagonist is Bob. The whole text centers on Bob as he waits at the designated place to meet his friend after 20 years. In the initial part of the story, his character is described through the help of his appearance which mostly indicates his wealth and gives us the impression that he is a hardworking man who has done well in the last 20 years. He emerges as a loyal friend who has returned to meet his friend and fulfill a promise even after a gap of 20 years. He comes across as a really good human who has not forgotten his old friend even after achieving so much in life.   

But as the story progresses, it is revealed that Bob is not exactly the man we think he is. Instead of a good scrupulous man, he turns out to be a wanted criminal who has accumulated all the wealth through the wrong channels. His true identity is illuminated as the end of the story is reached – he is identified as ‘Silky Bob’ who is a wanted criminal in Chicago.


Our second main character is Jimmy Wells –the friend Bob is waiting for, who is now a policeman. Initially, it is not clear that the policeman who first meets Bob is in fact Jimmy and we see him as the antagonist, someone who leaves Bob waiting alone. We know more about Jim’s character indirectly through Bob’s words –

“But I know Jimmy will meet me here if he’s alive, for he always was the truest, staunchest old 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 turns up…. He was a kind of plodder, though, good fellow as he was.”

The depth of Jimmy's character emerges as the story ends. It becomes clear that Jimmy is still a good friend and a ‘truest, staunchest old chap’, someone who also values his duty as a policeman. He identifies Bob to be the wanted criminal but decides not to arrest Bob himself. He chooses his duty but since he sends someone else to arrest Bob and spares his friend the agony and the feeling of betrayal proves that he still cares and cherishes the bond of friendship he shares with Bob.

The letter he writes for Bob tells deeply about his true character.

“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.”

The tall man in the long overcoat

The third character is our antagonist. His name is not mentioned in the story and is referred to as the 'tall man in a long overcoat’.  It is a flat character, except for his personality, attire, and height, nothing else is provided. Despite lacking depth the character plays an important role during the climax of the plot.