The £1,000,000 Bank-Note

by Mark Twain

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The following quote can be found in the opening paragraph of the story:

I was alone in the world, and had nothing to depend upon but my wits and a clean reputation; but these were setting my feet in the road to eventual fortune, and I was content with the prospect.

The quote is important for a variety of reasons. First, it shows readers that the narrative point of view is first person—we are going to experience the world as Henry experiences it. We will have limited knowledge of quite a few things, because the story is not being told from an omniscient narrative perspective. There are times when the perspective is not entirely limited, but for the most part, we are held just as clueless as Henry. Second, this quote is important because it tells us some initial key details about Henry. For instance, he believes that he is both smart and morally upstanding. As his adventure in London is recounted, readers will learn that his assessment of himself is quite true.

Henry is in an extremely low situation on the other side of the Atlantic. He arrived in London with a single dollar, and that money was spent during his first twenty-four hours. He is tired, dirty, and hungry, and he has no money. His situation is bad, and Twain paints that picture quite well by showing readers that Henry is now willing to pick up a half-eaten pear out of the gutter.

About ten o'clock on the following morning, seedy and hungry, I was dragging myself along Portland Place, when a child that was passing, towed by a nurse-maid, tossed a luscious big pear—minus one bite—into the gutter. I stopped, of course, and fastened my desiring eye on that muddy treasure. My mouth watered for it, my stomach craved it, my whole being begged for it.

Henry is soon after called up to a room with two wealthy, unnamed men. Readers have received some details about these men in a previous paragraph, but Henry doesn't know this information yet. The men quiz him about things and then apparently decide that Henry will serve their purpose just fine. Henry is broke and hungry, so he is willing to do whatever they want; however, the men refuse to tell Henry what purpose he is meant to serve. The following quote shows this, and it also illustrates a bit of moral corruption in the two wealthy Englishmen. They are willing to make a bet about and around a human life. They both have legitimate power to immediately help Henry, but they prefer to use Henry as the object of their bet.

Finally they told me I would answer their purpose. I said I was sincerely glad, and asked what it was. Then one of them handed me an envelope, and said I would find the explanation inside. I was going to open it, but he said no; take it to my lodgings, and look it over carefully, and not be hasty or rash.

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