A Retrieved Reformation

A Retrieved Reformation Literary Elements


Realist fiction; true crime

Setting and Context

The majority of the action takes place in Indiana and in Elmore, Arkansas; the story is set at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Narrator and Point of View

The story is written in a third-person omniscient voice; the point of view shifts between Jimmy Valentine and Ben Price.

Tone and Mood

The tone is street-smart, as the author uses idioms from the world of crime throughout; the mood is consistently anxious.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Jimmy Valentine is the protagonist; the antagonist is Ben Price.

Major Conflict

Jimmy Valentine's major conflict is that he must be dishonest about his true identity as a criminal in order to enjoy life as an upright and honest citizen.


The story reaches its climax when Jimmy risks revealing his identity as a safecracker so that he can free Agatha from the bank vault.


The arrival of Ben Price at the bank foreshadows Jimmy's encounter with him at the door.



When he assumes a new identity, Jimmy rises like a "phoenix" from the ashes of his old identity. This is an allusion to the mythological figure of the phoenix, an immortal bird that would live for many centuries in the Arabian desert before burning itself on a funeral pyre; the phoenix would then rise from the ashes with renewed youth that would allow it to live for another cycle.



Two paradoxes structure the narrative: it is only by assuming a false identity as Ralph Spencer that Jimmy can live an honest life; and it is only by eventually giving up that false front, and making himself vulnerable to arrest by Ben Price, that he can truly live in freedom


Metonymy and Synecdoche