A Retrieved Reformation by O Henry: Summary and Analysis

A Retrieved Reformation by o henry plot summary analysis and review

Originally called Retrieved Reform, this short story was first published more than a century ago in Cosmopolitan magazine. 

A Retrieved Reformation: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story opens in prison, where an inmate, Jimmy Valentine, is diligently working in the prison shoe shop. The man is serving a four-year sentence but is freed much earlier, apparently owing to his outside connections

Knowing Jimmy to be a good man, the warden advises him against cracking any more safes and living a decent life. 

He denies all wrongdoing and, although a bit tired, is happy to be 9762, the free man.

On his way to meet a man named Mike Dolan, Jimmy stops at a restaurant to enjoy a meal and a smoke as a free man. 

In a later conversation between Dolan and Jimmy, Dolan apologizes for the delay in securing Jimmy’s release from prison. Jimmy retires to his room and finds it in precisely the same condition it was left in. 

He quickly checks and locates his high-quality, safe cracking equipment. He soon leaves the apartment in his elegant clothes and a briefcase. Upon being asked, he responds that he was now a Salesman for a famous NY bread and cake company.

A week after Jimmy’s release, a series of robberies surface. Neat, professionally done, with increasingly more significant amounts being stolen. 

This soon catches the attention of Ben Price, a policeman, who notices the distinct nature of these robberies. 

They had Jimmy written all over them.

However, that knowledge was insufficient, given Jimmy worked alone and had great connections.

Not much later, Jimmy finds himself in Elmore, where he is at a bank, when he sees a beautiful young woman named Annabel Adams. Adams happens to be the banker’s daughter. Jimmy is smitten. He is later seen enquiring about the woman as well as any openings for the shoe business. 

He is a changed man, literally. He takes up the identity of one Ralph Spencer, opens a town shoe business, and flourishes. 

Jimmy and Annabel are engaged to be married soon.

Jimmy, set on a fresh new start, sends a letter for an old trusted friend to come to visit him so that he can hand over his tools. 

Unknown to him, Ben Price soon comes to the town, spots Jimmy, and discovers that he is soon to marry the banker’s daughter. Price plans to visit the bank soon while Jimmy is thinking of getting himself a wedding suit and a gift for Annabel. 

Before leaving, he stops by his father-in-law’s bank to see the newly-installed safe. One of Annabel’s sister’s kids gets trapped in the safe. 

Panic ensues, and with little time to act, Jimmy calls for his suitcase and, within minutes, expertly cracks the safe and saves the child.

The public display of these safe-cracking skills made him feel exposed. He no longer feels fit to live in Elmore or marry Annabel.

As he leaves the bank, he notices Ben Price and offers to come along. To his surprise, Price acts as if he doesn’t know who Jimmy is, responding with, “Guess you are mistaken, Mr. Spencer. Don’t believe I recognize you.”

The story leaves a great aftertaste. After all, who doesn’t like a fresh start?


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