The Unknown Quantity (Henry)

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The Unknown Quantity
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A wealthy man, inheriting his father's fortune made from a bread monopoly, tried to make amends for the harm caused by the price increase, but realized that the damage was irreparable.

Septimus Kinsolving, a wealthy New Yorker, made a fortune by cornering the flour market, causing the price of bread to rise and affecting many people's lives. His son, Dan Kinsolving, returned from college and Europe to inherit his father's fortune. Feeling guilty about the source of the wealth, Dan sought the help of his friend Kenwitz, a watchmaker and social activist, to find a way to repay those who had suffered due to the increased price of bread.

Dan Kinsolving — wealthy young man; son of a successful businessman; easygoing, friendly, and remorseful.
Kenwitz — Dan's friend; watchmaker; serious, intellectual, and socialistic.

Dan expresses his desire to make amends for the harm caused by his father's bread monopoly. This conversation takes place with his friend Kenwitz in Washington Square.

I’d like awfully well to pay back those chaps who had to give up too much money for bread.

Kenwitz explained that it would be impossible to repay everyone affected, as the consequences of the price increase were far-reaching and complex. He gave the example of Thomas Boyne, a baker who lost his business and went insane, leading to a series of tragic events for his family. Despite Kenwitz's pessimism, Dan insisted on trying to make amends.

Kenwitz tells Dan that it is impossible for him to make amends for the harm caused by his father's actions. This conversation takes place in Washington Square.

You can’t do it! One of the chief punishments of you men of ill-gotten wealth is that when you do repent you find that you have lost the power to make reparation or restitution.

Kenwitz took Dan to meet Boyne's daughter, Mary, who was working as a seamstress in a small, impoverished apartment. Dan was struck by her beauty and resilience, but she rejected his offer of help, angered by the connection to her family's misfortune. Undeterred, Dan continued to pursue Mary, and the two eventually fell in love and married.

Miss Mary Boyne — young woman; daughter of a failed bakery owner; hardworking, cheerful, and resilient.

Two months later, Kenwitz encountered Mary, now Mrs. Kinsolving, in a bakery on Broadway. She was dressed in fine clothes and appeared to be living a comfortable life. Despite the initial skepticism, Dan's efforts to make amends had ultimately led to a positive outcome for at least one person affected by his father's actions.

Mary reveals to Kenwitz that she and Dan got married. This conversation takes place in a bakery on lower Broadway.