ICSE Literature — My Lost Dollar

My Lost Dollar
by Stephen Leacock

Introduction .. This short story bristles with subtle humour. Writing with an intention to amuse the reader, the story mixes comical expressions, moralizing, and self pity to weave a story around a friend’s failure to repay a loan of just one dollar. The author who has lent the dollar is too decent to ask for refund, but finds it hard to write it off from his mind. Resigned to his loss of the one dollar loan, the author relapses to introspection. The result – a hilarious ending to the saga of the ‘Lost Dollar’.
Gist of the story .. The author’s close friend is going on a sojourn to Bermuda. Just before his departure, he wants some small change to pay off the taxi. He asks the author to lend him a dollar. The latter gives it readily. Todd departs for Bermuda.
Todd writes a letter to the author from Bermuda, but there is no dollar bill inside the envelope.
Twelve months go by. Todd has returned from Bermuda, but has not bothered to return the one dollar to the author. The lender is too decent to offend his friend by demanding his dollar back. He tries many ways to remind Todd about the dollar he owed, but due to some inexplicable reasons, the memory of the unpaid dollar refuses to enter Todd’s mind.
The author lists out the ways he attempted to remind his friend. First he went to the railway station to receive Todd when he returned from Bermuda. Todd was as cheerful as ever, but not the least embarrassed. The author’s agony mounts.
On another occasion, during an evening chat, the author broaches the subject of the American dollar by asking if it is circulation in Bermuda too. Todd replies, but the suggestion fails to kindle his memory about the ‘unpaid dollar’.
The author meets Todd almost every day in the Club, but Todd never mentions about his debt. Todd even says that he no longer remembers much about his Bermuda trip. The author is exasperated. He feels resigned to the loss of his dollar.
In desperation, he writes off the dollar. He adds Todd’s name to his list of people who have similarly defaulted in repaying their one-dollar loans. The author remains as friendly with Todd as before.
On another day, the author met Todd over dinner. Todd mentioned disapprovingly how Poland had defaulted in its debts. To the author’s distress, Todd did not appear to think of his own un-paid debt.
With his wounded feelings, the author begins a period of introspection. He feels, if forgetting loans is so human, he himself could have taken such loans and not repaid it. This realization unsettles him.
The feeling of moral guilt haunts the author. He wants his creditors to come forward and claim their refunds.
So disturbed the author is about this malaise of loan defaults that he wants to start a “Back to Honesty’ campaign. He is convinced that honesty should be the bedrock of all nations aspiring to greatness.
While concluding, the author wants his ‘forgetful’ friend Todd not to know of the torment the non-payment has caused to him. Comically, he wants the readers not to bring the copies of this story to the University Club Montreal frequented by Major Todd.


Question 1 .. Why was the author reluctant to ask Todd to return the amount?

Answer .. The author felt that asking his dear friend Todd for the return of the ‘one dollar’ loan could look mean and greedy. Todd could get offended by such a request. So, the author stepped back from making such a request.

Question 2  .. Why do you think Todd didn’t pay back the one dollar he owed the author?

Answer .. It would be reasonable to assume that Todd had forgotten about the loan. He was a major in the army, and was not short of funds. The second assumption is that he felt was too small to be refunded.

Question 3 .. What sort of person the author was?

Answer .. The author was a man of principle. He was sensitive, courteous, and had a sense of self-respect. Despite his nagging indignation at Todd’s failure to return the dollar, the author didn’t allow the loss to affect their friendship. While pointing finger at  others, he was ready to look within to search for his own follies. This is why he thought that he might have failed to return small loans taken from others.

Question 4 .. What sort of feeling you get after reading the story?

Answer … The story makes excellent reading, when one looks for something comical, non-serious and light. It is pure, undiluted fun to see the torment suffered by the author when his friend didn’t return the money.

Question 5 .. Write the story in 150 words.

Answer .. Write yourself.

Some more questions with answers ...

1.Who is Todd ? What kind of relationship exists between Todd and the narrator?

Answer .. Major Todd is a friend of the narrator. They are good friends with mutual respect for one another.
2.When and why Tod borrow a dollar from the narrator ? How much time has passed since then?

Answer ..Todd wanted some small change to pay off the taxi. He didn’t have any. So, he borrowed it from his friend, the narrator. Twelve months elapsed, but Todd was yet to refund the one dollar loan.
3.Why Todd has failed to return a loan ? What does it tell us about him?

Answer .. Apparently, Todd felt the one-dollar loan to be too small to be repaid to his dear friend. The other reason could be that Todd was forgetful in nature. Anyway, the reader does not take the lapse not very approvingly.

  1. As far as the memory is concerned, how do the borrowers differ from the lenders ? Give an example from the story to support your opinion.

Answer .. It is safe to assume that borrowers, in many cases, do not take their repayment obligations very seriously. On the other hand, lenders seldom forget the loans that they have given, however trifling the amount could be. The very fact that the narrator found it hard to write-off the one-dollar loan given to his dear friend underlines such observation.

  1. Relying on what is said in the story, does the narrator have any hope of being paid back ? Why?

Answer .. The narrator is resigned to the fact that the one-dollar loan would ever be redeemed. He has vainly tried all decent tricks to remind his friend about the outstanding loan, but Todd has, quite intriguingly, refused to remember the loan he took. Later the narrator has tried to console himself thinking how he too had similar failing. He too had not paid the club dues in time. [Check this fact from the book.]


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