Jimmy Valentine Summary by O Henry
O HENRY AND MODERN SHORT STORY
Someone wrote that O Henry was the American answer to the French legendary story-teller, the noted maestro Maupassant. Indeed, in the genre of short story O Henry’s name is uttered in the same breath with short stories remain still very popular for their unique craftsmanship.
Even in the 21st century the short stories of O Henry are still considered as masterpieces for their sparkling wit, sense of humour and irony, closeknit plots and deep psychological insight into characterisation and moreover, for their surprise endings. There are very few who fail to appreciate the classic short stories of O Henry like ‘The Gift of the Magi’, ‘The Last Leaf’, ‘ A Retrieved Reformation and ‘October and June’.
GOD OF SITUATIONAL IRONY
Among other qualities as a story-teller O Henry is remembered most for the unexpected endings of his stories. It is called in the common parlance as ‘kick’. Actually, it is known as situational irony. In it the expectation of the reader is given a rude jolt by the complete reversal of the endings. Great masters of short stories like Maupassant, Chekov and Edgar Allan Poe had used this device in many of their short stories.
For example, in ‘The Necklace’ of Maupassant along with the characters in the story the reader gets a rude shock when it is revealed that the diamond necklace was in reality a fake one. O Henry used this device in most of his stories like ‘The Gift of the Magi’ or ‘The Last Leaf. By this device he won the heart of his readers.
‘RETRIEVED REFORMATION’ AND ‘ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE’
In ‘Cosmopolitan Magazine’ O Henry wrote the story of a young handsome thief. He fell in love at first sight with a pretty young woman named Annabel Adams. His name was Jimmy Valentine. Later when this story was adapted into a successful broadway theatre, it was renamed as ‘Alias Jimmy Valentine’. The name clicked as the handsome, smart young thief with a golden heart easily won the heart of everyone.
Jimmy Valentine, a skilled young thief, returns to society after he is paroled from prison. After Jimmy leaves prison, a string of burglaries in banks comes to the attention of Ben Price, who realizes it must be Jimmy and sets out to catch him. Meanwhile, Jimmy arrives in Elmore where he plans to rob a bank. Here, he sees a beautiful young woman, named Annabel Adams. Her father owns the bank.
Jimmy does not rob the bank but instead, as ‘Ralph Spencer’, he settles in Elmore and opens a shoe store. He becomes socially success. He is soon engaged to Annabel Adams. She knows nothing of his past. A year later, Jimmy writes a letter asking a former friend to meet him. He plans to give him his safe cracking tools. The day before Jimmy is to leave, Ben Price arrives in Elmore. The next day, with his tools in his suitcase, Jimmy goes to the bank with Annabel, Annabel’s sister, and the sister’s two little girls, May and Agatha.
Annabel’s father wants to show them the new safe he has installed. While they are admiring the safe, Ben Price comes into the bank and watches them. Jimmy is unaware of the detective’s presence. Suddenly, May playfully locks Agatha in the bank vault. There is no way to get her out and Annabel turns to Jimmy for help. Jimmy then reverts to his old identity and frees the child. Once Agatha is safe, Jimmy puts on his coat and walks away. Later, he encounters Ben Price. The detective pretends he does not know Jimmy and lets him go free. This story has a surprise ending which is characteristic of O Henry’s tales, as is the gentle irony.
SOURCE OF THE STORY
‘Roads of Destiny‘ which was published in 1909. It was adapted by dramatist Paul Armstrong as a successful broadway play under the title ‘Alias Jimmy Valentine’ Three film versions on this story were made between 1915 to 1928. The last one was Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s first sound film with dialogue sequence. The short story ‘Retrieved Reformation’ was first published in ‘Cosmopolitan Magazine’ in April, 1903 Later it was included as a short story in the collection.
TITLE OF THE STORY
The tilte of the story ‘Jimmy Valentine’ has a chequered history. The story was originally named ‘Retrieved Reformation’ in its first publication. But when it was dramatised by Paul Armstrong for the broadway theatre, was renamed as ‘Alias Jimmy Valentine’ in its dramatic version. Our text in ‘Mindscapes’ it is named simply as Jimmy Valentine.
The story of ‘Retrieved Reformation’ is about the young handsome safecracker named Jimmy Valentine. His views of life suffered a sea-change after he fell in love at first sight with a beautiful, young and innocent woman called Annabel Adams. Through the story O Henry tried to convey the message that the reformation of a so-called law-breaker can be retrieved through the arousal of superior feeling of love.
But there is little doubt that the story revolves around the central character of Jimmy Valentine. The conflict that is observed in this story is between two central characters namely Jimmy Valentine. and the detective Ben Price. The characters of Annabel Adams, Annabel’s sister and her children are subsidiary characters around Jimmy Valentine The warden, Mike Dolan, the hotel clerk, the loafing boy are minor characters. The story is thus character-centric. The present title ‘Jimmy Valentine’ rightly hints at that.
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