Money is not "everything," as it is often a source of much anxiety and trouble. How does this truth relate to the story "One Thousand Dollars" by O. Henry?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The irony of O. Henry's story "One Thousand Dollars" is that the spendthrift nephew of the now deceased, wealthy Mr. Gillian has never been materialistic, and the greatest anxiety that he feels is how to be rid of money, not how to attain an inheritance from his uncle.

Young Gillian, who has lived in luxury without having to work, undergoes the task of spending $1000.00 that his uncle has stipulated in his will that he spend and report the manner in which it has been dispersed. Unable to think of a way to spend this money, Gillian goes to the men's club and asks the surly Old Bryson how he should dispense with a thousand dollars. Old Bryson sarcastically suggests that Gillian buy Miss Lotta Lauriere a diamond pendant and then go run a sheep ranch in Idaho.

Gillian then goes to the stage actress's dressing room and offers her "a little thing in the pendant line," but the materialistic Miss Lotta is uninterested in such a mere bauble when another actress has received a necklace valued at $22,000.00. Disappointed, Gillian departs; he asks people on the street outside how he can spend one thousand dollars, but receives only unethical answers. He then takes a cab to the law offices of Tolman & Sharp, who are handling his uncle's affairs. There he inquires if Miss Hayden, who has worked for his uncle, was left anything in the will besides the ring and the $10 that all the employees were given. "Nothing," says Mr. Tolman.

Gillian hurries to the mansion, places the one thousand dollars in an envelope and tells Miss Hayden that he has just come from the law offices where a codicil to his uncle's will was discovered and $1000.00 was left for her. "Oh," she exclaims, and Gillian professes his love for her. "I am sorry," replies Miss Hayden as she happily takes the money.

Greatly disappointed by this rejection, Gillian writes a note accounting for his expenditure of the one thousand dollars and places it in an envelope. He returns to the lawyers, informing them that he has completed his assignment of spending the money. However, the lawyers explain that the uncle wished to test Gillian to learn if he deserved any inheritance. If he has dispensed with the $1000.00 in an altruistic manner and not used it in "dissipation" as has been his habit, he can now receive $50,000.00.

Gillian cannot believe how much trouble money is causing him. He now has to be rid of a greater sum. So, as Mr. Tolman reaches for the envelope containing his explanation of his spending, Gillian quickly tears it into strips, saying that he has spent the money on gambling bets. Tolman & Sharp shake their heads "mournfully." 

Indeed, money is not "everything" to Gillian, who loves Miss Hayden. Even when he tries to give her some, it causes him trouble and anxiety. But he finally is rid of it, and he laughs as he departs.