I was reading Without Feathers by Woody Allen and came across this sentence: "I keep wondering if there is an afterlife, and if there is will they be able to break a twenty?"

The phrase is usually understood as "have change for a twenty dollar bill", but in this case I think it's kinda bizarre to apply this meaning.

Could you please explain to me what it means in this sentence?


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    Most Woody Allen is kinda bizarre. He's being surreal, suggesting (tongue-in-cheek) that life's most trivial yet annoying problems may be eternal. Jun 21, 2017 at 9:17

3 Answers 3


Break a twenty means make change for a twenty dollar bill.

A slightly irreverent and somewhat mischievous way of asking if practical things such as cash and by implication, other mundane aspects of daily life, will have any relevance? In other words, in a phrase, he is hinting at the bigger question, how different can things be "on the other side"?

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    Do angels carry cash? Or do they only use credit cards? Jun 21, 2017 at 21:17

That's right. It's to exchange a twenty dollar bill for lower denominations. And that's how it's being used in this instance.

The author is being deliberately facetious; feigning ignorance so as to appear flippant, or irreverent. The juxtaposition is supposed to be absurd, and thought-provoking, and witty; a classic example of the dry, satirical rhetoric, and self-deprecating-deadpan comedic stylings that Allen's famous for.


In the single line context (unclear what the rest of the passage includes), it suggests the frame of mind of the narrator, considering the afterlife, may be juxtaposing and contrasting part of the religious significance of money versus values e.g. "Render under Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and render under God that which belongs to God"; or calling to mind other expressions relating to money and the afterlife like "you can't take it with you" versus "whoever has the most money when they die wins", or even the fare to cross the river Styx.

Also, in the context of 1970s New York City, a corporate chain store might break a twenty if you asked. A small shop or street vendor would be more likely to require that you buy something; and at that, may just not have change for a twenty in any case.

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