An Exploration of Transformation in "After Twenty Years" by O. Henry

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O. Henry's "After Twenty Years" is a captivating narrative that delves into the complexities of human relationships and the inevitable changes that occur over time. The story revolves around the reunion of two old friends, Bob and Jimmy, who had planned to meet after two decades. However, what makes this story truly compelling is its exploration of how people evolve, sometimes not for the better.

The Scheduled Reunion

Bob and Jimmy, once inseparable friends, arrange to meet in front of an old restaurant after twenty years.

The setting, initially a restaurant, has transformed into a shop, symbolizing the passage of time and the inevitable changes in life. As Bob eagerly waits, the scene takes an unexpected turn when a police officer approaches him. His immediate explanation for being there raises suspicion, setting the stage for the unfolding events.

The cop, intrigued, decides to stay and lights a cigar. It is during this moment that the officer catches a glimpse of Bob's face, leading to a revelation that adds an unexpected layer to the story.

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This initial encounter sets the tone for the narrative, inviting readers to question the true nature of the characters and the reasons behind their reunion.

The Unveiling of Transformation

As the story progresses, we learn about the divergent paths that Bob and Jimmy have taken over the years. Bob, now wealthy and residing out West, shares details of his life with Jimmy. However, their conversation takes an intriguing turn when Bob notices a change in Jimmy's appearance.

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The description, "Twenty years is a long time but not long enough to change a Roman into a Pug," reflects Bob's concern about the transformation he perceives in his old friend.

The revelation intensifies when an undercover cop, disguised as Jimmy, hands Bob a note. The note discloses that Bob's face resembled that of a wanted man in Chicago. The shock of this revelation adds a layer of complexity to the narrative, challenging preconceived notions about the characters and highlighting the theme of transformation, not only in physical appearance but also in character.

Reflections on Change

O. Henry masterfully crafts a surprise ending that resonates with readers, prompting contemplation on the theme of change. The story prompts us to reflect on the transformations we undergo, both externally and internally, and the impact these changes can have on our lives and relationships. It serves as a poignant reminder that time has the power to shape individuals, sometimes steering them down unforeseen paths.

Personally, this narrative brings to mind instances of friends who underwent changes that were not necessarily positive. The story echoes the sentiment that transformations are not always for the better, and people may find themselves on divergent paths from those they once held dear. It raises the universal question: Have you ever experienced a profound change in yourself or witnessed it in others?


In conclusion, "After Twenty Years" by O. Henry is a rich exploration of transformation, friendship, and the unexpected turns life can take. The narrative's surprise ending leaves a lasting impact, encouraging readers to ponder the inevitability of change and its effects on individuals and relationships. As we navigate the complexities of life, this story serves as a timeless reflection on the intricate dance between time and transformation.

Updated: Dec 29, 2023
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An Exploration of Transformation in "After Twenty Years" by O. Henry. (2017, Feb 07). Retrieved from

An Exploration of Transformation in "After Twenty Years" by O. Henry essay
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