My Lost Dollar By Stephen Leacock
About the Author: Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) was a Canadian humorist, educator and political economist. He may well be described as a bridge between two centuries. He graduated from Upper Canada College and joined the University of Toronto in 1887. In 1889, he took to teaching. The success of his first humorous article published in Grip, a Toronto magazine, in 1894, encouraged him to continue to write. His first book of humorous writing Literary Lapses came out in 1910. He was a prolific writer whose last book was Humour; Its Theory and Technique published in 1935. Besides he published biographies of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens in 1932 and 1933 respectively.
Stephen Leacock writes a delicious, leisurely tongue-in-cheek kind of critique of human nature in this uproariously funny essay. Tongue-in-cheek because we would not have others do unto us what we might do unto others. And how refreshingly different is Leacock’s manner?
Main Points of My Lost Dollar
The narrator’s friend Todd borrowed one dollar from him. Todd was going to Bermuda. The narrator went to see him off. Todd asked for a dollar in change to pay his taxi. The narrator lent it to him, believing that Todd meant to return it.
That was twelve months ago. Todd has not repaid the dollar. The narrator is afraid that now there is little prospect of his ever getting it back. Todd meets him inn the same frank friendly way as he always did. This is a certain indication that he has completely forgotten about the dollar he borrowed from the narrator.
Todd was away in Bermuda for three weeks. The narrator was at the railway station to receive him. He was there not because of the dollar but because he esteems his friend. They spent the evening together at the Club, talking about Bermuda.
The narrator could not ask his friend about his dollar. One simply can’t. But he gave him enough hints. Still, he failed to remind Todd. Since then, the two friends meet practically every day and the narrator keeps on dropping hints but Todd doesn’t pick them up. Not deliberately, of course. He simply seems to have forgotten.
The fact that Todd has completely forgotten about his dollar has begun to give the narrator a rather painful thought. It is quite possible that, like Todd, he himself too must have forgotten to pay such small amounts to his friends. If that is so, there is no chance of his doing so now. So he would like such of his friends to remind him. But not all at once. In reasonable numbers and in alphabetical order if possible. He will take down their names on paper. The narrator would not, however, entertain the claims of those from whom he might have borrowed an add dollar while playing cards in the Club or a few cents for a bottle of plain soda.
He wants to start a general Back to Honesty movement so that all those, including himself, who borrowed a dollar to pay for a taxi, may return that money. After all, the greatest nations were built upon the rock basis of absolute honesty. The narrator concludes with the hugely funny warning to his readers that they should not be careless enough to leave this essay anywhere where it might be seen by his friend Major Todd, whose Club address he doesn’t fail to mention. Why mention the address if you don’t intend it to fall into your friend’s way?
Questions and Answers
Q.1. Narrate in your own words how and when Todd “borrowed” the dollar.
Ans. The writer says that his friend Todd owes him a dollar. He remembers that Todd borrowed the dollar on the 8th of April. At that time, he was leaving for Bermuda. He needed a dollar to make payment to the taxi. He did not have the change in his pocket. Todd simply said to the writer, “Let me have a dollar, will you?” The writer said, “Certainly, Is a dollar enough?” The writer says that all this happened simply and naturally. When Todd took the dollar, the writer believed that he meant to pay it back. But Todd forgot all about the dollar and never thought of paying it back. The writer made several attempts to remind Todd of the borrowed dollar, but Todd could never get the writer’s hint. Only now does he realize that it was all over with the dollar. Todd has forgotten all about the dollar, but the writer has not. He says, “If any man borrows a dollar from me, I carry the recollection of it to the grave.” He even remembers that his friend Todd owes him a dollar.
Q.2. How did the narrator realize that Todd had completely forgotten that he owed the narrator a dollar?
Ans. Todd borrowed one dollar from the narrator when he was to leave for Bermuda. He needed it for paying the taxi fare. After three weeks, Todd came back. The narrator went to the railway station to receive him. He hoped that the mention of the taxi would remind Todd that he had borrowed a dollar for taxi fare. That is why he suggested taking a taxi. But Todd said that he would prefer to walk. The author gave another hint. He asked him about the currency of Bermuda. But Todd still failed to recollect the borrowed dollar. The narrator met Todd daily at the Club. Then one day he asked Todd how much money he had spent on his trip to Bermuda. To this, Todd replied that he had not kept any accounts. And then he asked him how he was feeling after his trip. Todd said that he had practically forgotten about it. Thus at last the narrator realized that it was all over with his dollar. In spite of all his efforts, he failed to get the dollar back. He now believed that Todd had completely forgotten to pay back the dollar. None of the hints given by the narrator could work.
Q.3. What hints did the narrator give to remind Todd that he had borrowed a dollar from Him? Did the hints work?
Ans. After receiving Todd at the train, the narrator took him to the Club. He didn’t refer to his dollar but asked Todd what currency is used in Bermuda and whether the American Dollar goes at par. He put a slight emphasis on the American Dollar to give his friend a gentle but unsuccessful hint.
A few days later, he asked Todd what his trip had cost him. Todd replied that he didn’t keep accounts. A little later, he asked him if he felt settled down after his trip. Todd replied that he had practically forgotten about it.
When all his hints failed to land at the target, the narrator realized that his dollar was gone for good.
Q.4. What “painful” thought has begun to come into the narrator’s mind? Why is it painful?
Ans. One day the narrator’s friend Todd was going to Bermuda. He needed a dollar in change to pay his taxi. The narrator at once gave it to Todd. He had, of course, given it as a loan. Todd came back from Bermuda after three weeks. The narrator found that Todd had forgotten all about the borrowed dollar. On several occasions, he threw various hints to Todd to remind him the dollar he had borrowed but Todd failed to get any of these hints. When the writer recalls the whole incident, a painful thought comes to his mind. If his friend has borrowed a dollar from him and has forgotten it, it is possible that the writer may have borrowed a dollar from someone and has forgotten to repay it. The thought is painful because he has not been able to recall the names of such friends. He thinks that if he has borrowed a dollar, he will not repay it all his life as he does not remember anything about it. Thus he will die with a burden of a debt on him. This thought has become very painful to the narrator.
Q.5. Is the narrator willing to pay back all those whom he has forgotten to return small amounts? What general movement does he want to start?
Ans. The narrator is willing to pay all those from whom he has borrowed small amounts and has forgotten to return. In fact, he wants all such people to write to him. But he adds humorously, “Not all at once, but in reasonable numbers, and as far as may be in alphabetical order.” He says that he will write their names down on paper. However, there are some men whom he would not include in his list. For example, he would not include one who has lent him an odd dollar over a bridge table. “But if any man ever lent me a dollar to pay for a taxi when I was starting for Bermuda, I want to pay it,” say the narrator with Todd in his mind. He still hopes that Todd will read his article and will be reminded of the borrowed dollar. The narrator says that he has decided to start a general movement. He calls it “Back to Honesty” movement. Its aim is to remind people to pay back the small amounts that they have borrowed in the hour of their need.
He wants to remind people that the greatest nations are built on the basis of honesty.