Short Stories of O’Henry Lesson Plans: “Cop and the Anthem,” “After Twenty Years,” and “Hearts and Hands”

ON HIS BENCH in Madison Square Middle School, Mr. Soapy moved uneasily. When wild geese honk high of nights, and when teachers without seal-skin coats grow kind to their principals, and when Mr. Soapy moves uneasily on his wheeled chair in the classroom, you may know that formal evaluation time is near at hand.

Luckily, Mr. Soapy has this awesome set of lesson plans that includes handouts and lessons from 3 of O’Henry’s most beloved stories: “The Cop and the Anthem,” “After Twenty Years,” and “Hearts and Hands.” (He got “The Gift of the Magi” Unit Plan at another time.)

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“After Twenty Years” Summary

If you’re looking for more O’Henry, here’s his most famous work.

A policeman walks along a street at night, apparently working and making sure there’s no trouble afoot. He comes across a man who is waiting on a friend that agreed to meet him there twenty years ago. The officer asks a few questions, wishes the man luck, and goes on his way.

Twenty minutes later another man shows up and claims he’s the friend he was supposed to meet. After 10 minutes of walking the first man realizes he’s not talking to his friend at all. The new man informs the other man that he’s under arrest. The cop that showed up was actually his friend, Jimmy Wells, who recognized a wanted criminal from Chicago. Not wanting to arrest his old friend, he sends another cop to make the arrest.

“The Cop and the Anthem” Summary

Winter is arriving and Soapy needs a place to stay. He prefers to spend his winters in jail, where he gets three meals and a place to sleep, so he does his best to get arrested. He commits or tries to commit six crimes but can’t get arrested. After his final attempt he finds himself in front of a church and is inspired to change his life.

As he ponders his new life, he’s arrested and sentence to three months.

“Hearts and Hands” Summary

Two men are on a train headed to Leavenworth prison. One’s a marshal and one’s a prisoner handcuffed to the marshal. A lady recognizes one of the men and strikes up a conversation. When she discovers the handcuffs, one of the men talks and talks about what a great marshal his friend is. After a small discussion, the two exit the car. The reader then discovers that the man pretending to be the prisoner was actually the marshal.


  • Irony. If you’re into irony, then you’re in to O’Henry. All 3 of these stories have an ironic twist at the end. That’s why the unit contains an analyzing irony lesson plan handout.
  • Theme. The theme of each of these stories–and pretty much all of O’Henry’s short stories–is that life is full of the unexpected and things aren’t always as they seem. You could also throw in a people change theme.
  • Personal Connections. In addition to clever twists, O’Henry’s popularity stems from his ability to connect with the reader.
  • Character Motivation. O’Henry connects with readers because his characters are motivated by the same things we are. As in life, these motivations lead to actions that take unexpected turns.

Lesson Objectives

The primary objective for each of these lessons is students can cite textual evidence to support analysis. This includes examples of irony, examples of characterization, and examples of plot. These examples support the story’s theme and lends itself to literary analysis.

You know all this since you downloaded the unit.

Last Updated on June 7, 2021 by Trenton Lorcher

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