In "My Financial Career," why did Leacock go to the bank?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Stephen Leacock grew up on a farm, so it is understandable that he might have been awkward and self-conscious when he got his first job in a city and decided to open a bank account because his modest salary seemed too big for him to keep in cash. "My Financial Career" was one of his earlier humor pieces, meaning that he was still young and inexperienced in many things. That is something we all have to go through in our youth, so it is easy to empathize with him.

The one-hundred-acre farm near Lake Simcoe in Ontario where the family settled and where Leacock passed his boyhood was, by his own account, an unpleasant place where he and his brothers worked long and hard, always in the face of financial difficulty.

Food is usually plentiful on farms. Leacock was one of eleven children, and they always had enough to eat. But cash money is hard to come by. That explains why Leacock's income seemed so important. He confesses at the beginning that he has a phobia about banks.

I knew this beforehand, but my salary had been raised to fifty dollars a month and I felt that the bank was the only place for it.

Fifty dollars a month was a raise. His salary was even smaller before that, possibly forty dollars a month. This suggests how much inflation has affected the value of money since Leacock's day. After Leacock succeeds in establishing a bank account, he wishes to withdraw six dollars "for present use." Will six dollars cover his food and shelter for a week? He was obviously a bachelor at the time he went through his first banking experience.

Much of Leacock's writing was what used to be caused "light summer reading." He is obviously exaggerating, but exaggeration was the staple of older American humor, as E. B. White explains in his excellent anthology titled A Subtreasury of American Humor. White himself was one of America's foremost humorists in his day, but now he is best known for his two children's books, Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. Stephen Leacock's popularity is a thing of the past, but at one time he ranked with Robert Benchley and James Thurber as a foremost writer of light personal humor essays. There was a bigger market for this kind of material in the past.

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My Financial Career

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