One Thousand Dollars by O. Henry

In One Thousand Dollars by O. Henry we have the theme of selflessness, love, devotion and change. Taken from his Selected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Henry may be exploring the theme of selflessness. Though Gillian has the opportunity to spend his Uncle’s inheritance on himself he decides against doing so preferring instead to give the money to Miss Hayden. This action is important as it suggests that Gillian has changed. Rather than spending the money on himself or on gambling he has thought about someone else. Someone that he is very much in love with if not devoted to. Something that the reader is aware of from the note that Gillian writes after giving the money to Miss Hayden. He writes of the eternal happiness that Miss Hayden brings him considering her to be the ‘best and dearest woman on earth’. Which suggests that Gillian is not only devoted to Miss Hayden but he is also very much in love with her. Rather than thinking about himself Gillian has thought about somebody else, somebody who might need the money more than he does. It is also possible that Gillian through his lifestyle choices is also aware that should he keep the money for himself he will only squander it. Gillian may be actually tired of how he lives his life and as such is seeking, through his actions, to change.

Even though Gillian has acted selflessly old habits die hard. Something that is noticeable when Gillian is talking to Old Bryson. He asks Bryson for advice on what he should do with the money and it would appear that Bryson lives a dissolute life similar to Gillian. He in essence suggests that Gillian should waste the money on material things for others in order to advance himself in their eyes. In reality Bryson is thinking about how he would like to spend a thousand dollars which suggests that he is not only self-centred but he may not necessarily be a true friend to Gillian. Some of Bryson’s other suggestions are impractical (hiring Madison Square Garden). Bryson wants to flaunt the thousand dollars rather than do something of benefit with it. It may also be a case that by introducing Bryson into the story Henry is not only highlighting an individual’s selfishness but their ego too. Each idea that Bryson has inflates his own ego which in turn suggests that Bryson is a greedy man. The most important person in Bryson’s life is himself. It may also be important that throughout the story Bryson makes no constructive impact on the story. Rather he is sitting in a men’s club drinking and imagining how he would spend a thousand dollars.

Miss Lauriere and the cab driver are also two interesting characters. Though for separate reasons. Miss Lauriere appears to only think about herself and what she can get from other people which appears to be somewhat of a wake-up call for Gillian. He knows that should he spend the thousand dollars on her he will be discarded as soon as the money or gifts run out. He knows that Miss Lauriere will only take advantage of him and his money. The cab driver on the other hand is a little bit more productive. When he is asked by Gillian what he would do with a thousand dollars he admits that he would open a saloon and restaurant. Which in many ways suggests that the cab driver is thinking ahead. Using the money not only productively but in order to improve his life so that he can give up driving a cab. Though Bryson, Miss Lauriere and the cab driver would spend the money on themselves it is the working class cab driver who would advance himself through hard work. It is also possible that Henry is suggesting that money is wasted on those who do not appreciate it. People like Bryson and Miss Lauriere who appear to be more interested in what they can get out of others without giving anything themselves.

The ending of the story is also interesting as the reader gets to see how beneficial Gillian’s selflessness actually is. By tearing up the note he had previously written, Miss Hayden is guaranteed to receive a greater sum of money ($50,000). She now has the opportunity to live a life she may never have expected to live thanks to Gillian’s generosity. Something that pleases Gillian. Throughout the story Gillian has played with the idea of wasting the money on himself (and others) but by ripping up the note he has thought about someone else. From talking to Bryson and ignoring his advice to realising that Miss Lauriere is only interested in using him Gillian has matured. Even if Miss Hayden’s love is not reciprocated Gillian knows that for the first time in his life he has done the right thing. He has thought about someone else and provided them with an opportunity in life when he could have thought only of himself. Just as Bryson and Miss Lauriere appear to be doing.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "One Thousand Dollars by O. Henry." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 23 Jan. 2017. Web.


  • Very well written… Thanks for the guidance.

  • Excellent!! Thank you.

  • v nice it’s good

  • Thanks very good review

  • Hi.. thanks for the insight.. it helped me a lot. May I have a question ? What do you think about the character of the old blind man? How did he help with Gillian’s decision?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Eden. I think the blind man reassures young Gilligan. That he too can leave an honest life. Just as the blind man is living. Young Gilligan doesn’t need those who appear to hang from him. Miss Lotta Lauirere as an example. If the blind man can save a thousand dollars and not waste it so too can young Gilligan.

  • Thank you for the note!

  • Gillian knows that Miss Hayden is so honest, that she will not accept one thousand dollars from him, so he tricks her into thinking she inherited it straight. He wants what is right for her. She really loves him also, but she cannot marry a man who is a spendthrift and a wastrel, so she says “I am sorry.” And she is.

    There is the happy ending. Miss Hayden will go to the lawyers and ask for more details about how she suddenly has fifty grand. The lawyers will tell her about Gillian losing the one thousand at the track, but she will know that Gillian gave the money to her, so that she will inherit much more.

    Miriam Hayden will see that Gillian is someone responsible and selfless now, that she can safely marry. Gillian knows all this in advance, and so he is last seen whistling happily at the elevator. This is one heartwarming story!

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for that insight Thomas. You have a better understanding of the story than I have.

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