Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The theme of this story turns on the comparison that the author invites among the varying degrees of honor exhibited by the principal male characters. Naboth, the mechanic, is clearly the most honorable: He objects to his friend’s trickery in getting the second sovereign and resolutely refuses George’s offer of half of the questionable prize. He cannot imagine what George is up to when he goes to get the second sovereign and is astonished when George describes his trick. The other extreme is represented by the totally unprincipled Jerry Chambers. He has lost money by betting on George, and he wants to make good his losses by inventing reasons to have the first and second place winners disqualified. His antics in calling attention to the pathetic old beggar and his wife are pure exploitation, as he is simply using them as an occasion to collect money, and, as he keeps the largest contribution, George’s sovereign, for himself, giving the beggar a sum amounting to less than half the value of the sovereign.

George, the clerk, wavers between these two extremes. He is as quick-witted as Jerry in conceiving his plan to get an extra sovereign, but Nab’s disapproval—significantly Nab condemns the trick as “a bit like what Jerry Chambers might have done himself”—arouses qualms of conscience that prompt him to give the sovereign to the old couple. There is a vast difference between George’s extorting an extra sovereign from the sports committee and Jerry’s brazen and vulgar exploitation of the impoverished old couple for the same coin.

Although Nab’s steadfast integrity and George’s conscientious sacrifice of the sovereign that he got by deception win the praise of the girls—and, presumably, the approval of the reader—it is significant that Jerry escapes unscathed with the sovereign to which he had no legitimate claim. Honor deserves—and wins—respect in the kind of world the story depicts, but a grossly vulgar charlatan escapes with the cash.