The Five Boons of Life By Mark Twain: Summary, Analysis and Review

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The Five Boons of Life is a short story by Mark Twain published as part of his collection, The 30000 Bequest and Other Stories.

It’s different from his other stories in that it does not have our humorous Mark Twain saying things that make us grin like idiots in awe of his wit, but something to mull over, something to reflect.

The Five Boons of Life: Summary and Plot Analysis

The fable, as the title suggests, is about the five boons of life. It features a fairy and a man over the span of a man’s lifetime. It is divided into five chapters.

Chapter 1

Enter Fairy who has arrived with gifts.

‘Take one, leave the others ’- she says.

The five options on offer are – Fame, Love, Riches, Pleasure and Death.

Without a second thought, the young man chooses pleasure. It does not take him long to realize that it was not a good choice – as each of those pleasures were short-lived, vain and empty.

He regrets his choice and resolves to choose wisely if the opportunity ever presents itself again.

Chapter 2

Man has aged a bit now, Fairy makes an appearance again and grants him another wish. He has the option to choose from the rest of the four.

The man chooses love this time thinking that it had to be the right decision.

Years have passed since that visit from the fairy – every loved one the man ever had, either left him or the world. He is pained with grief and curses love from the bottom of his heart.

He lost way more than he gained, trading with the monstrous Love.

Chapter 3

Fairy reappears and now offers the man to pick one from the remaining three.

Man chooses fame this time. The fairy grants the wish and leaves.

The man enjoys fame, but that experience of enjoyment does not last long either. Fame is quickly followed by envy, persecution, derision and pity. He sits there alone, marinating in hopeless self-loathing.

Chapter 4

The man being given the choice between Wealth and Death this time, chooses Wealth, considering himself utterly foolish for not having done that before.

Wealth, he thought, was the answer to everything.

The result of this one was worse if not better than ones from his previous choices. Three years after choosing wealth, the man sat in rags, cursing wealth and coming to realize the most precious wish of them all – Death.

Chapter 5

Man is ready to embrace death when Fairy appears and offers him to choose again, but there is a twist.

The man can only choose from the four options that he had used before. Death was not an option anymore for the man.

What lay ahead of him was something worse – and in Mark Twain’s words – The Wanton Insult of Old Age.

Want to read The Five Boons of Life by Mark Twain?

The Five Boons of Life 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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The Five Boons of Life: Review and My Thoughts

‘If you were granted one wish, what would you ask for?’

Growing up, someone must have asked you this question at least once. It is not just something that children marvel at, but is also a good conversation starter for adults.

Now, I do not know about you, but I have been asked that question many times in my life, so much so that it’d  be a miracle if it does not make a monthly appearance at some conversation or the other.

What’s more intriguing is how the answer to that question changed for me as I grew older.

I distinctly remember the first time I was asked this question. And I answered like any ice-cream loving kid would,  ‘An Ice cream truck’.

Of course, I couldn’t have the satisfaction of having my imaginary ice-cream truck, because I was immediately told what a stupid choice that was.

If I were you, I would have asked for ‘I wish for every wish of mine coming true’

That was the Big revelation. How smart! How Intelligent! Why didn’t I think of it?

Of course I couldn’t, because I was stupid. And my neighbor was smart.

And then Life happened. (It’s still happening by the way; I am not that old)

Like the man in Twain’s story, I have craved for some of those things. But with a growing stack of life experiences, I’ve come to realize that there is no end to desire.  Getting one is always followed by an immediate craving for the other and then another and so on and so forth. 

The fable is not new. You have some version of this in every culture and even if you are not familiar with this particular story, you are not new to the idea.

Equipped with whatever you took from the story, if I were to ask you, for the n-th time..

If you were to be granted one wish, what would you ask for?


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