The £1,000,000 Bank-Note Analysis

Mark Twain

Style and Technique

Twain’s style is realistic. In this story as in his others, he makes use of the language of everyday working Americans. The colloquial speech adds to the sense of reality that pervades even his most comic tales. His presentation of detail is kept to only what is necessary to advance the story or to present his characters clearly. What one finds, then, is a story that focuses on the bank note from the very opening, right up to the concluding sentence. The story’s development and action are direct and to the point, enhancing the reader’s sense of the story’s organization.

Twain makes use of many of the techniques of humor in this tale of adventure. He surprises the reader in several instances, as, for example, when he reveals that Portia is stepdaughter to one of the old gentlemen. Twain indulges in bold farce when, time after time, Henry delights in pulling out the bank note to disconcert some smart-mouthed clerk or businessman who is not treating Henry well because he seems to have little money. One such detailed scene takes place in the tailor shop when Henry puts the snobbish clerk in his place.

Twain also delights in revealing the eccentric parts of human nature. He pokes fun at English aristocrats who can never manage to dine out with others because they cannot agree on the proper order of precedence in their seating arrangements; thus, all aristocrats have to eat at home before they go out to dinner.

Twain skillfully uses revelations and withholdings to keep the reader’s interest. He reveals Portia’s relationship to the old English gentlemen only in the final scene, just as he makes Henry a rich man only just prior to the final, climactic scene. The reader of “The £1,000,000 Bank-Note” recognizes that he has been treated well at the hands of a master storyteller as Henry Adams concludes his story.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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