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Reading O.

Henry’s stories is a wonderful way to introduce students to the concept of the twist ending and to get them thinking critically. This lesson offers discussion questions that will help your students engage with the story ‘After Twenty Years.’

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Reading O. Henry in Class

Are you a teacher trying to get your students engaged with the unusual and fascinating stories of O. Henry? One story you might have your students read is ‘After Twenty Years.’ This is the tale of two friends, Bob and Jimmy, who reunite after twenty years of separation.

One is now a criminal, and the other is a police officer. Jimmy cannot, however, bring himself to arrest his friend.This story deals with themes like the nature of friendship, what is right and wrong, and what causes people to commit crimes in the first place. To help your students get as much as they can out of the story, you will want to have discussions about it in class. A good literary discussion will help students learn from each other as they process what they have read. The questions in this lesson will help you facilitate a strong discussion of ‘After Twenty Years.’

Questions About Characters

Here, you will find questions that will help your students think about the different characters in the story.

  • How would you describe Bobby as a character based only on what you see of him in the story? Which of his traits stand out most, and why? Would you want to be friends with him? Explain why or why not.
  • How would you characterize Jimmy as a person, based on the way he behaves over the course of the text alone? What aspects of his character are more and less likable?
  • How do your assessments of and feelings toward both Bobby and Jimmy change or evolve as you learn more about their backgrounds and histories? Why do you think your reactions change or do not?
  • Which aspects of Bobby and Jimmy help them to be friends? How do you understand the nature of their friendship? What draws them to each other in spite of their differences? Discuss whether you can relate to this personally, and why or why not?
  • The differences between Bobby and Jimmy really stand out, but what are some of the ways that they are similar to each other? what do you make of these similarities in spite of the tremendous contrasts?

Questions About Plot

These questions will promote a rich discussion about the plot of the story.

  • How would you describe the main problems or conflicts driving this story? What does O.

    Henry do as a writer to help you understand the nature of these problems?

  • What are the events and factors that lead to Bobby and Jimmy meeting up again in the first place?
  • Discuss whether you think the premise of this story is realistic, and why or why not. Do you think O. Henry intended it to be realistic? Justify your answer using evidence and prior knowledge.
  • What stands out to you about the way the story draws to a close? Would you characterize this as one of the twist endings O. Henry is famous for? Why or why not?
  • How would you describe the relationship between the setting and the plot of this story? How does the setting both contribute to and detract from other aspects of the plot?
  • What other stories does this one remind you of in terms of its narrative trajectory, and why? Discuss the plot based connections you are making.

Questions About Themes

Finally, the questions in this section will help your students talk together about the story’s themes.

  • What would you describe as the most salient underlying themes in this story, and why? What do you think O.

    Henry is communicating with regard to these themes?

  • What is the nature of friendship in this story? Do you agree or disagree with what the author seems to be saying about friendship? Discuss why or why not.
  • Talk about the theme of time in the story. What is the impact of the passage of time? How does time impact people and relationships? How do you as a reader react to what O.

    Henry communicates about time?

  • Discuss the nature of criminality in this story. What motivates someone to be a criminal or not? What do you make of the way this theme is treated in the text?

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