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“A Retrieved Reformation”. O. Henry. Print File. Audio File. Skills:. Inference Skills Characterization Irony Theme * Reality vs. Appearances

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“A Retrieved Reformation”

O. Henry

Print File

Audio File



Inference Skills




* Reality vs. Appearances

* People Can Change


Reformation: The act of changing for the better

Phoenix: a mythical bird that burns to death and rises from the ashes to begin a new life; often a symbol of reborn idealism or hope.

Clemency: Forgiveness or leniency, especially for a crime committed.


Inference Skills

“He had served nearly ten months of a four-year sentence. He had expected to stay only about three months, at the longest. When a man with as many friends on the outside as Jimmy Valentine had is received in the “stir,” it is hardly worthwhile to cut his hair.”

What inference can we make about Valentine?


Inference Skills

“Me?” said Jimmy, in surprise. “Why, I never cracked a safe in my life.”“Oh, no,” laughed the warden. “Of course not. Let’s see, now. How was it you happened to get sent up on that Springfield job? Was it because you wouldn’t prove an alibi for fear of compromising somebody in extremely high-toned society? Or was it simply a case of a mean old jury that had it in for you? It’s always one or the other with you innocent victims.”“Me?” said Jimmy, still blankly virtuous. “Why, warden, I never was in Springfield in my life!”

Based on this exchange, what do you think of Jimmy?


Inference Skills

Pulling out from the wall a folding-bed, Jimmy slid back a panel in the wall and dragged out a dust-covered suitcase. He opened this and gazed fondly at the finest set of burglar’s tools in the East. It was a complete set, made of specially tempered steel, the latest designs in drills, punches, braces and bits, jimmies, clamps, and augers, with two or three novelties invented by Jimmy himself, in which he took pride. Over nine hundred dollars they had cost him to have made at——, a place where they make such things for the profession.In half an hour Jimmy went downstairs and through the café. He was now dressed in tasteful and well-fitting clothes, and carried his dusted and cleaned suitcase in his hand.

What do you think Jimmy plans to do next? Why?


Inference Skills

On the Monday night after Jimmy wrote this letter, Ben Price jogged unobtrusively into Elmore in a livery buggy.5 He lounged about town in his quiet way until he found out what he wanted to know. From the drugstore across the street from Spencer’s shoe store he got a good look at Ralph D. Spencer.“Going to marry the banker’s daughter are you, Jimmy?” said Ben to himself, softly. “Well, I don’t know!’’

What can we infer has happened between when Jimmy wrote the letter to his friend, and when Ben Price shows up in Elmore?


Inference Skills

“Hello, Ben!” said Jimmy, still with his strange smile. “Got around at last, have you? Well, let’s go. I don’t know that it makes much difference, now.’’

Based on this, we can infer that Jimmy…


Inference Skills

And then Ben Price acted rather strangely.“Guess you’re mistaken, Mr. Spencer,’’ he said. “Don’t believe I recognize you. Your buggy’s waiting for you, ain’t it?”And Ben Price turned and strolled down the street.

We can infer that Detective Ben Price has decided…



“Mr. Ralph Spencer, the phoenix that arose from Jimmy Valentine’s ashes-ashes left by the flame of a sudden and alterative attack of love-remained in Elmore and prospered.”

1. What caused Jimmy to turn into Ralph Spencer?

2. Why would falling in love cause Jimmy to change his ways?

3. Do you think Jimmy has really changed as completely as this line suggests?


Reread Jimmy’s letter to Mike.

1. According to Jimmy’s letter, why has he given up his life of crime?

2. Why would having Annabel believe in him cause Jimmy to become an honest man?

3. After reading this letter, do you believe that Jimmy has given up his life of crime

for good?



“With that act, Ralph D. Spencer passed away, and Jimmy Valentine took his place.”

1. Explain this line. In what way has Jimmy Valentine returned?

2. How is this Jimmy Valentine different from the old Jimmy Valentine?

(Hint: Why is he breaking into the safe?)

3. Do you think that in this moment, Jimmy plans to return to life as a criminal?


There are three common types of irony:

  • This is the contrast between what is said and what is meant. Most sarcastic comments are ironic.


It is the contrast between what happens and what was expected. Irony of situation is often humorous, such as when a prank backfires on the prankster.


This is the contrast between what the character thinks to be true and what we (the reader) know to be true. 

Sometimes as we read we are placed in the position of knowing more than what one character knows.  Because we know something the character does not, we read to discover how the character will react when he or she learns the truth of the situation. 


situational irony
Situational Irony:
  • It is the contrast between what happens and what was expected. Irony of situation is often humorous, such as when a prank backfires on the prankster. This does not, however, mean that the result is always funny.

For example, if the president of Microsoft, Bill Gates, were to win a contest whose grand prize was a computer system, the irony would be situational because such a circumstance would appear ridiculous or "funny" for a number of reasons. Bill Gates doesn't need a computer, he runs the world's largest software company, and he's filthy rich, so winning a computer seems silly and "ironic".

“I’m going to get you!” yelled Lillie to her friend Nick. Shaking the can of silly string, she took aim at Nick and pushed down on the trigger. Unfortunately, the can was pointed in the wrong direction, and Lillie sprayed herself right in the face.


Examples of situational irony from the story:


Theme is an idea, image, or motif which is repeated or developed throughout a work. It unifies the work.

To find theme we ask, “What does the story reveal?”

Note: The topic of the story is NOT the theme. A topic is the subject matter.


Universal Themes:

True Value of Friendship


Great Journey


Love Conquers All


Appearances can be Deceiving