Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Sense of Humour” is based on V. S. Pritchett’s experiences as a young author. In 1923, he was commissioned to write a series of articles on Ireland for the Christian Science Monitor. He spent the next year traveling around the island. In one town, Pritchett met a traveling sales representative who gave his girlfriend rides in his father’s hearse. During this year in Ireland, Pritchett also met his first wife, Evelyn Maude Vigors, an actress. Pritchett has been reticent about his first marriage, which ended in divorce in September, 1936, three months after this short story was accepted for publication. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the character Muriel MacFarlane hints at his first wife.

The story’s title refers to the stereotypical ethnic theme of the good-humored Irish. When they first chat, Muriel finds it hilarious that Arthur Humphrey’s father is an undertaker. Seeing that her laughter offends Arthur, she says, “Don’t mind me. . . . I’m Irish.” “Oh, I see,” the narrator replies. “That’s it, is it? Got a sense of humour.” Later, when he introduces her to his parents, his father remarks, “Oh, Irish! Got a sense of humour, eh?”

Although Muriel’s sense of humor allows her to see some of the absurdities of the human experience, it does not affect her treatment of Colin Mitchell. Muriel really does not like him because she thinks he does not have a sense of humor, but he is the best that the small town she is in can offer. She goes out with him because her only alternative is to stay in the hotel on Sundays. However, she treats him offhandedly, and drops him as soon as Arthur turns up and shows an interest in her. She is a user of people. Muriel is also a chiseler in a small way: She accepts samples...

(The entire section is 725 words.)