23 pages 46 minutes read

O. Henry

After Twenty Years

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1906

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.


Identity and Change

Identity is who we are and how we distinguish ourselves from those around us. The theme of identity is complex in this narrative, as the perception of the identities of the characters changes continuously over the course of the story, and they are represented and demonstrated through the actions of each character. Bob goes from appearing to be a financially successful, hard-working, incredibly loyal friend to being revealed to be a criminal who has been running from the law for 20 years and stealing his riches rather than earning them. The patrolman evolves from being a confident protector of the peace and a listening ear to Bob’s story to being the very friend that Bob has been speaking about, and ultimately, he decides to turn in his own best friend. The tall man who appears to be Jimmy at first is revealed to be a trickster and an undercover police officer. The short story rewards further readings to catch the situational irony, and the sense that nothing is as it seems on a dark, rainy night creates an atmosphere appropriate for mistaken identities and truths that are only revealed once the characters step into light.