One could argue that the central topic of “My Financial Career” is the little man vs the big corporation. Leacock’s awkward, cack-handed efforts to transact what should be a simple piece of business at the bank could reasonably be construed as a satirical commentary on the struggles of the little guy against big business. Such institutions don’t really exist for the benefit of the likes of him; they are there to serve the interests of the rich and privileged. In fact, that’s how they make their money. As someone with only a small amount of money in his possession, it's no wonder that Leacock feels so hopelessly out of place.
Leacock is overawed and somewhat intimidated by the bank as soon as he sets foot in the place. Everything seems so strange and alien, almost calculated to instill fear into the hearts of all but the wealthiest of high-rollers. Indeed, it’s notable that Leacock only receives decent customer service when the manager mistakenly believes that he is a high net worth individual with lots of money to invest. The suggestion is that big corporations only really care about the interests of the social and economic elite and don’t have much time for the little guy with only $56 in his pocket.
"My Financial Career" is a short story written by Stephen Leacock. It is written in the first person and follows the narrator on his quest to deposit some money in a bank. The theme of this story is very clear: the theme is money. More to the point, you could actually argue that the theme is not just money in general, but the narrator's relationship to money and his way of looking after it.
To understand this better, you need to remind yourself of the fact that the reader soon finds out that the narrator has earned extra money, as his "salary had been raised to fifty dollars." This leads to the narrator feeling the need to safely deposit the money somewhere. Before this pay rise, however, the narrator has had no previous experience with banks. We can see that because he tells us that he currently does not have a bank account to deposit his money into, as it is only now that he wishes "to open an account." Whilst this might sound curious for a person nowadays, you have to remind yourself of the fact that the author lived at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century—a time when banking would not have been as commonplace as it is today.
We can further see that the narrator is not used to banking, as he tells us that he "become(s) an irresponsible idiot" as soon as he engages in any financial business. And indeed it so happens that the narrator acts like a fool at the end of the story. He is so nervous that he accidentally "had written fifty-six instead of six," leading to him taking all the money out again that he had literally just arranged to be deposited. Therefore, the story concludes with the narrator deciding not to bother with banks again. Instead, he plans to "keep (his) money in cash in (his) trousers pocket."
The main topic of "My Financial Career" is a confession of Leacock's phobia about banks. This humorous essay is one of his most popular pieces because many of his readers share his fear of big, imposing institutions. Banks in Leacock's time were more intimidating places than most of them are today. In fact, it is possible to do most banking without ever entering a bank. But Leacock picks out the aspects of the old-fashioned bank that were most intimidating. They had thick stone walls, high ceilings, uniformed and armed guards, bars separating tellers from customers, and imposing vaults with incredibly thick steel doors. The men and women handling all that money were deadly serious and also suspicious of any stranger. Leacock seems to have been most intimidated by the people in the bank. No doubt Leacock received many penetrating looks when he first went in to open his modest account. As with most humor and comedy, we laugh at him because we are really laughing at ourselves.
When I go into a bank I get rattled. The clerks rattle me; the wickets rattle me; the sight of the money rattles me; everything rattles me.
After his interview with the manager, Leacock rose to leave the office.
A big iron door stood open at the side of the room.
"Good morning," I said, and stepped into the safe.
"Come out," said the manager coldly, and showed me the other way.
Leacock wrote excellent and very readable biographies of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. He must have been influenced by the humor pieces in which Mark Twain confesses some of his own foibles and idiosyncracies. One of his best is about his feelings about barber shops. Another is about how he allowed a traveling salesman to put so many lightning rods and metal coils around his house that the big Victorian building attracted every bolt of lignting in the county. Another very funny essay by Mark Twain deals with how he couldn't get a ridiculous little jingle out of his mind until he passed it on to a friend, who was then stuck with it himself.
Leacock's humor, like Mark Twain's, is built on exaggeration. Leacock's style is unpretentious, personal, friendly, and informal like that of Mark Twain. Notice how short all of the paragraphs are in "My Financial Career." Such short paragraphs and short sentences have eye-appeal.
Leacock was an extremely popular writer at one time, both in Canada and the United States. He ranked with Robert Benchley and James Thurber as a popular humorist. He is not so well remembered today. But humor essays can become dated quickly.