Study Guide

One Thousand Dollars

by O. Henry

One Thousand Dollars Summary

Summary

O. Henry's short story “One Thousand Dollars” opens with a brief and polite conversation between a young man and a lawyer. The lawyer offers the young man one thousand dollars, his apparent inheritance from a recently deceased uncle. “Young Gillian,” the young man in question, chuckles at the peculiar and specific amount of his inheritance. He marvels that, had his uncle bestowed a much larger or a much smaller amount of money upon him, he would better understand the bequest. As it stands, however, he is puzzled and stunned by the legacy of one thousand dollars exactly.

Mr. Tolman, the lawyer, gives young Gillian the money and further explains the conditions of his uncle’s will. The will stipulates that the young man must spend the money and bring receipts of his purchases to the lawyer’s office. In fact, he must account for the manner in which he spends every penny of the inheritance. The young man, still astonished by his uncle’s final bequest, leaves the lawyer’s office and goes to his club.

Upon entering the club, young Gillian approaches a fellow member, Old Bryson, and asks him for advice. He explains that his uncle, who was reportedly worth nearly half a million dollars, left him only a one thousand dollar inheritance. He asks Old Bryson for advice on exactly how to spend the money.

Old Bryson questions him about the remainder of his uncle’s fortune. Young Gillian explains that his uncle left a sizable portion of his fortune to science, particularly the study of bacteria. He also states that his uncle’s servants, “the butler and the housekeeper,” will each inherit $10 and a ring. His uncle’s ward, a Miss Hayden, will inherit an identical legacy. Old Bryson reminds him that his uncle always indulged him financially and that he had never before been a cautious spender. Young Gillian acknowledges the truth of the statement, referring to his uncle as “the fairy godmother” of generous allowances. Still, he is dismayed by the pittance of an inheritance that he receives from his uncle’s estate. In his dismay and disbelief, he again asks Old Bryson how he should spend the one thousand dollars.

Old Bryson sarcastically offers several possible uses for the money. For instance, he suggests that young Gillian could purchase a home and live a modest life. He could also purchase enough milk to supply one hundred hungry babies for a month. He could quickly...

(The entire section is 983 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear