Protagonist and Antihero
In ‘‘A Retrieved Reformation,’’ Jimmy Valentine is both the protagonist of the short story and an antihero. The protagonist is the central character of the story and also serves as a focus for its themes and incidents. An antihero is a central character in a fictional work who does not possess traditional heroic qualities and distrusts conventional values. Jimmy is the focal point of ‘‘A Retrieved Reformation,’’ as it is his life and choices that form the story’s plot. But Jimmy is also an antihero. Until he sees Annabel Adams, he chooses to live on the wrong side of the law and lie about his life. When he meets Annabel for the first time, Jimmy changes but keeps the new people in his life in the dark about his past. Jimmy cannot remain heroic, though, because his fiance´ e’s niece gets locked into her grandfather’s safe. While his actions are heroic because it could mean the end of his new life, he is still an antihero overall.
Word play can be defined as using words cleverly so they take on alternate meanings. Puns and other plays on words are signatures of O. Henry’s fiction. In ‘‘A Retrieved Reformation,’’ Jimmy Valentine’s name can be seen as an example of word play. Valentine is a reference to Valentine’s Day, the holiday of love. This is appropriate, as it is love that compels Jimmy to leave his life of crime. Another example of a clever phrase is found early in the story, when Jimmy puts on the clothes given to him by the warden before his release. The author describes the clothes with several puns. He writes, ‘‘He had on a suit of the villainously fitting, ready-made clothes and a pair of the stiff, squeaky shoes that the state furnishes to its discharged compulsory guests.’’ The use of ‘‘villainously’’ is a play on the criminality of Jimmy and other prisoners who must wear the clothes that do not fit well, while ‘‘discharged compulsory guests’’ is an interesting way to describe recently released prisoners.
A melodrama is any type of literary work which uses stereotypical characters, exaggerated emotions and language, simplistic morality, and conflicts. ‘‘A Retrieved Reformation’’ is considered a melodrama because it possesses many of these qualities, including a simplistic sense of right and wrong. Jimmy can be seen as a stereotypical character, a good-hearted criminal who changes for the better because of a woman. Annabel is also a stereotypical character. She is a young woman who loves Jimmy withoutquestionandhasnoother discernable qualities other than her own lovableness. Even their relationship is melodramatic. Just the sight of Annabel’s beauty compels Jimmy to relinquish his life of crime, an exaggerated incident that fits the definition of melodrama. Jimmy’s love for Annabel is idealistic based on her appearance, and there’s no discussion of the development of their relationship until they near their wedding date. The ending of ‘‘A Retrieved Reformation’’ is also melodramatic. When May accidentally locks Agatha in the vault, their mother becomes hysterical,and there’s noone for miles who can save the day. Because of the situation, the reformed Jimmy reverts to his past and uses the safecracking tools he is ready to give away to dramatically save the girl.
Twist of Fate
In fiction, a twist of fate is a coincidence in which events take an unexpected turn. O. Henry often used twists of fate in his short stories. In ‘‘A Retrieved Reformation,’’ the twist of fate happens at the end of the story. The reformed Jimmy is on the verge of giving away his safecracking tools when Agatha is accidentally locked in the vault at her grandfather’s bank. Because of this unfortunate incident, Jimmy is compelled to return to his old life, at least for the moment, and save his fiance´ e’s young niece. This twist of fate changes the path of Jimmy’s life, though another twist of fate comes along in the form of Ben Price. Price is there to check up on Jimmy and perhaps arrest him for several robberies involving safes and vaults committed after his release. When Jimmy sees Price at Mr. Adams’s bank, he is ready to give himself up, but Price lets him go and keeps Jimmy’s real identity a secret. Jimmy still has a chance to remain reformed.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, O. Henry, Published by Gale Group, 2010