Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“It May Never Happen” is a typical V. S. Pritchett story in dealing not with social or political issues but with character revelation. The story’s satire is directed in part at the values and mores of the lower-middle classes, but its main concern is with the interactions of the characters, each of whom turns out to be at least slightly ridiculous. The most obviously humorous character is Belton, who dreams of commercial success. His persistent optimism undermines those very dreams, for it prevents him from seeing anything clearly, especially himself. He would rather daydream than work, and he habitually avoids responsibility by spending his money on luxuries when he should be devoting his time to selling the company’s products. Young Vincent regards Phillimore’s pessimism as more farsighted than Belton’s cockeyed optimism, but Phillimore himself is weak and flighty. His clumsy attempt to win Miss Croft is typical of his inability to deal with life. Vincent and Miss Croft are typical young people, naïve and self-centered, struggling to enter the adult world yet fearful of its responsibilities. Vincent, as narrator looking back on these youthful experiences, sees all too clearly his own awkward gropings toward insight and experience while at the same time revealing the absurdities of the elders he once admired and feared.

Thus, Pritchett’s humor is directed ultimately at the follies of human beings in general, at their posturings and lack of self-knowledge, their fears and weaknesses, their sexual anxieties, and their general ineffectualness. As always, however, Pritchett’s satire is more compassionate than condemnatory. He sees and reveals so that readers may laugh with one another, not at one another. In his world, everyone is slightly ridiculous, and hence, everyone is joined together in common, flawed humanity.