"There the warden handed Jimmy his pardon, which had been signed that morning by the governor. Jimmy took it in a tired kind of way."
Written in deceptively simple language, the opening lines of "A Retrieved Reformation" introduce the incident that sets the story in motion while simultaneously establishing Jimmy's enigmatic character. Rather than respond to the news of his sudden release with excitement or relief, Jimmy's emotions are flat. His peculiarly lackluster response may have several explanations: it may disappoint Jimmy that he was not released sooner, as he had expected; he may not look forward to being free, since he knows he will immediately take up his safecracking habit; and he might have found some solace in the honest work of shoemaking that he did in prison, since he later opens a shoe shop and prefers his new life to a life of crime. The reader is left to speculate, as Jimmy's inner thoughts remain a mystery.
"Jimmy Valentine looked into her eyes, forgot what he was, and became another man. She lowered her eyes and colored slightly."
In this passage, Jimmy sees Annabel for the first time. All it takes is one look in her eyes for him to want to surrender his identity as a safecracker and start life anew as a better man. Jimmy's charm is evident in the way Annabel blushes; she sees that Jimmy does have a good heart. This passage is significant because it shows that the prison warden's prediction was accurate: the reform he wanted for Jimmy occurs in an unexpected instant.
"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."
Taken from the first paragraph of the story, this passage is significant because it establishes how Jimmy has created a network of friends and accomplices outside of prison. The passage makes clear Jimmy's notoriety as a safecracker while suggesting that Jimmy has a personable and kind nature; that he is a person who other people want to help. Jimmy's network is so reliable that he doesn't expect to be in prison long enough that he would need a haircut.
"Ben Price knew Jimmy's habits. He had learned them while working up the Springfield case. Long jumps, quick get-aways, no confederates, and a taste for good society—these ways had helped Mr. Valentine to become noted as a successful dodger of retribution."
This passage introduces the detective Ben Price while simultaneously injecting narrative tension through dramatic irony. Just as Jimmy is a methodical and capable safecracker, Ben Price is a thorough, determined detective who knows how Jimmy works. The reader understands that Ben will hunt Jimmy down, while Jimmy is presumably oblivious. Their clash seems inevitable; the only question is how long it will take Ben to catch up with Jimmy.
"From there he proceeded leisurely to the depot. He tossed a quarter into the hat of a blind man sitting by the door, and boarded his train."
In this passage, Jimmy's enigmatic character is further developed. Having just been released, he enjoys his freedom by having a restaurant meal, recklessly spending the money the prison had given him to start his new life as an honest man. Giving money to a beggar would seem to contradict Jimmy's seemingly dishonest nature as a thief; a reader could imagine an alternative scenario in which he stole the money the blind man had collected. It is clear that Jimmy abides by his own moral code.
"The clerk was impressed by the clothes and manner of Jimmy."
When Jimmy inquires about shoe businesses in Elmore, the hotel clerk first appraises Jimmy's appearance before speaking to him. This passage is significant because it speaks to the motif of how Jimmy's pleasing appearance gains strangers' trust. Because he does not exhibit signs of criminality but of respectability, Jimmy is free to exploit people's favorable first impressions of him.
"Jimmy stuffed it into his vest-pocket, threw off his coat, and pulled up his shirt-sleeves. With that act, Ralph D. Spencer passed away and Jimmy Valentine took his place."
At the story's climax, Jimmy must give up his identity as Ralph Spencer and become Jimmy Valentine again in order to free Agatha from the bank vault. This selfless gesture, in which Jimmy finally reveals his true identity, proves that he is a reformed man; ironically, it is by ridding himself of his assumed identity as an honest man that he actually becomes an honest man.
A Retrieved Reformation Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for A Retrieved Reformation is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.