The 30000 Bequest by Mark Twain: Summary and Review

the words "the 30000 bequest by mark twain" written next to a picture of mark twain

The 30000 Bequest is a short story written by renowned American author Mark Twain. It was first published in a collection of short stories. This story revolves around the devastating effects of union of fantasy and finance.

Picture this:

You are walking down the street mindlessly and  you suddenly come across a beautiful young woman. Your immediate reaction is to tuck your bulging stomach in, and you smile your goofy smile – charming in your head and totally awkward in reality – imagining having that beauty as your doting girlfriend, having a mansion for a house, a Ferrari for a casual stroll car, when suddenly you see being yanked into a highly crowded subway train, failing to notice the door closing on your face.

The beautiful woman is nowhere to be seen and somehow you have managed to sleepwalk in broad daylight for a straight 15 minutes right up till the subway train that takes you to work.

You let out a sigh and well, get on with your day.

Seems far fetched, eh?

I bet you have seen at least a couple of variants of this seemingly inexplicable occurrence in some television show or some movie if you haven’t lived at least a dialed down version of this episode yourself at some point in your life.

But what am I going on and on about this imagination when we are here to have a discussion about Mark Twain’s short story The 30000 Bequest?

Two words:  Spoiler Alert.

The 30000 Bequest: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story is set in a small town called Lakeside and boasts of about 6000 residents. Everyone knows everyone and their dogs. People are religious and friendly.

The protagonist Saladin Foster was the only high-salaried book keeper in the town in his mid-thirties, who lived in the town with his wife Electra and their two daughters – Clytie and Gwen.

Electra is a devoted wife and has brought the family a significant sum of money through her calculated financial ventures. She is a happy and pleased woman.

Saladin (Sally) and Electra (Aleck) are both practical and diligent in all their endeavors during the day, but in the night, in each other’s company, the romantic version of their lives comes alive.

All in all, they live a happy life.

One day, they receive news from Sally’s distant relative Tilbury Foster, from a neighboring state, who mentions that he would be leaving 30000 bequest for them in his will, provided that they make no inquiries about him and do not attend his funeral.

The couple, failing to properly register the oddity of the request, immediately start multiplying the imaginary money in their heads through a variety of financial investments.

Although pretty harmless and comparatively limited in the beginning, their imagination begins to spiral out of control pretty quickly.

The constant wait for the ‘good news’ of their relative’s demise meddles with their natural healthy familial state.

They find themselves losing patience at the drop of a hat, quarreling with each other and constantly distracted while performing their usual duties.

In a world where both of them have managed to multiply their imaginary wealth running into billions and made powerful contacts in the country and abroad, they keep rejecting proposals for their daughters. They are resolute on marrying them into nobody less than royalty.

The husband and wife, who had once been so loyal and dedicated to each other, start finding flaws in one another, imaginary vices that they seemed to have acquired with their enormous wealth.

Then, one day, the editor and proprietor of the Sagamore pays them a visit to remind them of their overdue payment of subscription, which the Fosters had missed for the last four years.

Giddy with excitement to receive a visitor that they thought could only bring them good news of the relative’s death, they are heartbroken when they are told that Tilbury Foster died five years ago!

Crestfallen upon receiving this terrible news, Sally and Electra sit motionless for hours, not realizing the departure of their guest.

The dashed hopes do an irreparable damage to their mental health and they die a couple of years later.

On his deathbed, Sally reflects on the disasters of unnatural wealth acquisition:

Vast wealth, acquired by sudden and unwholesome means, is a snare. It did us no good, transient were its feverish pleasures; yet for its sake, we threw away our sweet and simple and happy life – let others take warning by us.

Want to read The 30000 Bequest by Mark Twain?

The 30000 Bequest is a short story which is published in a novel alongwith other short stories written by Mark Twain. You can use the links given below to buy this short story collection on Amazon:

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Check Price on Amazon Canada
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The 30000 Bequest: Quotes and Review

It’s so interesting to see the progression from contentment to cautious to frivolous and dangerous imagination and the havoc that it wreaked on their lives.

Here’s the happy:

“Happy in her husband, happy in her children and the husband and the children were happy in her.”

The cautious:

“Don’t lose your head so. We must not subscribe till we’ve got the money. Don’t you know that?”

The frivolous:

“Money had brought him (Tilbury Foster) misery, and he took revenge upon us, who had done him no harm. He had his desire: with base and cunning calculation he left us but thirty thousand, knowing we would try to increase it, and ruin our life and break our hearts.”

The story has a grim ending but there is a little characteristic Mark Twain witty relief.

Recall the brainstorming session that the couple had trying to come up with an excuse to throw a party to celebrate their imaginary wealth. As there were no birthday or any specific occasion to celebrate, the couple came up with an ingenious idea:

But at last he hit it – just by sheer inspiration, as it seemed to him – and all their troubles were gone in a moment; they would celebrate the Discovery of America. A splendid idea!

Let me take you back to a quick trip down the short term memory lane. Remember the guy sleep-walking his way up to his train at the Subway station I told you about at the beginning of this article?

Does that idea seem more plausible to you now?

What I got from the story is that – Crazy imagination is hilarious, when the subject is not you.

Hope can be slippery sometimes.

Tread with caution, friends of words!

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