The Big Town Themes
by Ring Lardner

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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The subtitle of this collection of related stories defines Lardner's theme and plot: "How I and the Mrs. go to see New York to see life and get Katie a husband." Getting his sister-in-law a husband leads Tom Finch, the "wise boob" narrator of the five stories, to contrast life in South Bend, Indiana, with that of booming post-war New York City. The autobiographical element in the stories — the Lardners made the same migration and even stayed at the Long Island hotel featured in two of the stories — led Lardner to include a humorous disclaimer in the 1925 edition. But clearly Tom Finch's midwestern reservations about the spendthrift habits and dubious manners and morals of the big town reflect an aspect of Lardner's own response to New York City at the beginning of the Roaring Twenties. "I just want to be where they's Life and fun": Kate's equating "Life" and "fun" with New York City underlies the satire of The Big Town.

Before the move, Tom had worked as a cigar salesman; but an inheritance from his war-profiteering father-in-law liberates the family, and they join the euphoria that characterized America between World War I and the Depression. In pursuit of a husband for Kate, the Finches encounter three classes of New Yorkers. First, there are the established rich who are either accessible, but dull (Trumbull), disingenuous (Herbert Daly), or snobs (Lady Perkins). Second, there are the would-be rich — the ambitious young Wall Street broker who unfortunately prefers Ella to Kate, the ambitious young aviator whose airplane proves fatally imperfect, and the Ziegfield Follies comedian who has the ambition but not the talent to be a dramatic actor. Finally, there are the working men, Trumbull's chauffeur and Daly's jockey, who are more attractive than their employers, but who...

(The entire section is 470 words.)