O. Henry is the pen name of William Sydney Porter. He is a famous American Short-story writer. He was born in North Carolina in 1862. He lost his mother only at the age of three. His early education was incomplete. He had to leave the school at the age of fifteen to work in a drug store. He got married in 1887 and went to Texas in search of job. There he worked as a journalist and then as a bank-teller. Unfortunately he was convicted for fraudulence as a bank-teller and undergo three years' imprisonment. He started to write short-stories in prison. After getting release from the convicted life, he settled in New York and continued his writing career. Me married again in 1907 but could not live long. He died of consumption on 5th June, 1910.
His notable works are -
- Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking (1899)
- Cabbages and Kings (1904)
- The Four Million (1906)
- The Trimmed Lamp and Other Stories (1907)
- The Gentle Grafter (1908)
- Roads to Destiny (1909) etc.
Alias Jimmy Valentine is an interesting short-story by O. Henry. But it is not its original title. It first came out with the title A Retrieved Reformation in 1909. In 1928, it was adapted into the film, Alias Jimmy Valentine, MGM’s first all-talking film. The present title of the story has been coined from that film. The story is a popular one which describes the events leading up to the reformation of an ex-convict.
Jimmy Valentine is an expert safe-cracker and he is released from prison after 10 months though he was sentenced to four years of imprisonment. He goes to his old house, takes his tools and leaves the place. A few days later, a number of cash robberies are reported. Ben Price, a detective who sent Valentine to jail, is employed to work on the new cases of robberies. After investigating the cases, he realizes that the robberies are committed in Jimmy’s style. Everything is clear to him. He is confirmed that Jimmy is very much behind these.
In the meantime Jimmy changes his address. He comes to Elmore, a little town in Arkansas. On the way to the hotel there he comes across a lovely lady. He falls in love with her at first sight. He learns from a local boy that the young lady is Annabel Adams, the daughter of the owner of Elmore Bank. He is so much attracted by her beauty that he decides to give up his criminal career to begin a new life with her. He takes up the identity of Ralph D. Spencer, opens an exclusive shoe-store and lives in the town. When he makes a social position there through his flourishing shoe-business, he becomes engaged to Annabel with the approval of Mr. Adams.
Jimmy writes a letter to his old friend Pal two weeks before the day of marriage. He tells him in his letter to meet him at Little Rock. His target is to hand him over his kit of tools forever. He also mentions his forthcoming marriage in the letter. That a change comes over him is clear from this letter. Ben Price, by this time, tracks him down at Elmore. He also learns about his proposed marriage.
Jimmy prepares to go to Little Rock one morning on the pretext of ordering his wedding suit and buying something nice for Annabel. He leaves the hotel with his suitcase and turns up at the Elmore Bank along with Mr. Adams, Annabel and Annabel’s married sister with her two little girls, May and Agatha, aged nine and five respectively. Actually, Mr. Adams has installed a new safe and vault in his bank. He is very proud of his new possession. He wants to show it to all of his family including Jimmy. At that time appears Ben Price there but remains unnoticed by others.
Mr. Adams explains the workings of the vault to the visitors. In the meantime, May, in a spirit of play, has shut Agatha in the vault and turns the combination knob. All are in extreme panic. For, the system of unlocking is not known even to Mr. Adams. Tension mounts up. Agatha’s mother is panic-stricken. Everybody fears Agatha will die of fright and from suffocation. Annabel begs Jimmy to do something for her. He cannot ignore her. He gets to work ignoring the risk that it will reveal his true identity. He opens his suitcase, draws out his tools and arranges them one by one on the table. To the utter amazement of others, Jimmy breaks open the vault in ten minutes with immaculate expertise and saves the little child.
Now everything is clear to all. Jimmy has nothing to defend himself. He slowly walks towards the door of the bank. At the door stands Ben Price. Jimmy senses what is in store for him. He welcomes Price and is ready to give in. But Ben Price acts otherwise. He refuses to recognize Jimmy Valentine. He calls him Spencer. Utterly surprised Jimmy sees him strolling down the street.
There is nothing new in the story of Alias Jimmy Valentine. It is about the transformation of a thief into a good human being. Such a story is often used in English language classes and writing courses. But the way it is woven by O. Henry is highly interesting. There are many twists and turns in the characters and situations of the story. But the real charm lies in the abrupt ending of the story. Ben does not arrest Jimmy. He violates law but values love and humanity. Ben knows that once a thief is not a thief always. The act of Ben is striking here. However, O. Henry leaves here his trademark of fine story-telling. As a whole, the story is very much interesting and enjoyable.