Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“My Financial Career” is one of Leacock’s earliest pieces, appearing in his first published humorous book, Literary Lapses. One of his most anthologized works, this short sketch of less than two thousand words already treats one of Leacock’s favorite themes: the effect of economics on the lives of men. When one remembers that Leacock took his doctorate in economics, it is not surprising that this piece illustrates the Everyman’s fear and mistrust of the bank as institution. Typical of his best work, the sketch opens quickly with the narrator’s frank admission that banks and everything about them “rattle” him.
He confesses to falling into a state of near idiocy at any attempt to transact business but is determined, now that he has more than fifty dollars in his pocket, to open an account. Timidly, he asks to speak to the manager. The manager takes him into a private room, locks the door, and proceeds to assure the narrator of utmost security. Because of the narrator’s air of confidentiality and distrust, the manager assumes he is a private detective or that he has a large sum to invest. Learning that the narrator has only fifty-six dollars, he “unkindly” turns him over to a clerk.
The narrator is now flustered, mistakenly walks into the safe, and is eventually led to the clerk’s window, into which he thrusts the money. When assured that it had been deposited, the narrator quickly asks for a withdrawal slip. Meanwhile he feels that people in the bank are staring at him, thinking him a millionaire. Intimidated and miserable, he quickly withdraws his fifty-six dollars and rushes out. The sketch concludes with the narrator’s observation that he keeps his money in his pants pocket and his life savings in a sock.
The humor of the piece is achieved not only by the exaggerated situation but also by a skillful use of short clips of dialogue. The narrator’s psychological intimidation is clearly presented by an economy of detail in which the scene richly suggests more than it relates.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Davies, Robertson. Stephen Leacock. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970.
Doyle, James. Stephen Leacock: The Sage of Orillia. Toronto: ECW Press, 1992.
Lynch, Gerald. Stephen Leacock: Humor and Humanity. Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988.
Lynch, Gerald, ed. A Critical Edition: “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town” by Stephen Leacock. Ottawa: Tecumseh Press, 1996.
Staines, David, ed. Stephen Leacock: A Reappraisal. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1986.