Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In his masterpiece Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, Leacock’s lifelong interests in economics and political science merge, resulting in a thematic unity not found in most of his other books. After a genial preface in which Leacock provides some autobiographical information—and in so doing prepares the reader for the narrative tone of naïveté mixed with sarcasm—the narrator, a fellow townsperson, establishes himself as the observer from whose point of view the reader is able to make a judgment about the characters.
The first of these is Mr. Josh Smith. Weighing in at three hundred pounds, Smith owns the town’s only hotel. Shrewd and slyly gregarious, Smith is reputed to be the richest man in Mariposa. He knows how to turn a profit and has even been fined by the License Commission for selling liquor after hours. In a financial venture intended to appease the commission while increasing business, he hires a French chef and opens a café in the hotel. The narrator’s tone suggests admiration at Smith’s business acumen.
Just down the street from the hotel is Jefferson Thorpe’s barber shop. Thorpe is talkative and enjoys the notoriety of being a shrewd investor. The narrator admires the fact that though “Jeff” has “Cuban lands” and even gold mines, he continues shaving his customers without raising his prices. By the end of the story, Jeff has obviously lost his money on scams, but the narrator still...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The episodic plot of Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town is developed through a conversation between Leacock’s chatty narrator and another resident, or former resident, of Mariposa. The reader takes the part of the former resident, whose responses are minimal and are recorded only occasionally as the narrator repeats them. Mariposa is a sunlit town of five thousand, according to the Canadian census, or ten thousand, according to the natives, lying along a hillside next to little Lake Wissanotti. The narrator is extremely proud of the progressive nature of Mariposa, the showplace of Missinaba County. He purports to take every occurrence at face value, never challenging the way that the characters represent their actions or their motives. The discrepancy between the interpretations of the narrator and those of the reader account for much of the book’s humor.
Leacock presents a fine gallery of small-town characters. Josh Smith is a hotel keeper who possesses an imposing size and manner, as well as a shadowy past. Some of his business practices are sharp almost to the point of criminality. He is also the deus ex machina of the novel. When, during the Knights of Pythias’s Excursion Day on Lake Wissanotti, the Mariposa Belle sinks (in six feet of water), it is Mr. Smith who raises her. When the heavily mortgaged (and insured) sanctuary of the Church of England burns to the ground, it is Mr. Smith who saves the rest of Mariposa. Evidence...
(The entire section is 531 words.)
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.