Douglas Turner Ward Wilfrid Sheed - Essay

Wilfrid Sheed

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Happy Ending" and "Day of Absence"] deal with the same subject: the classic master-servant joke, as interpreted in racist America. Mr. Ward's approach is so apparently happy-go-lucky that it is easy to forget that he has a subject. But he has one indeed and he sticks to it scrupulously. It seems to be his understanding that the master-servant relationship is basically ridiculous, regardless of race, creed or color; in other words, that whether you play the front end of the horse or the back, you are going to make a fool of yourself. The fact of color introduces its own special poisons into the game, but these are not Mr. Ward's first concern—this time around anyway. He just wants us to see how funny it is that this man should be serving that one….

In "Happy Ending" he shows us life at the back end. Two colored ladies are sitting in a kitchen, mourning the impending divorce of their employer. Their nephew comes bouncing in to tell them they should be ashamed of themselves….

Slowly and with sensuous relish the aunts explain to the indignant nephew how his way of life, the very clothes on his back, depend on their employer's well-being….

Gradually, he breaks, and begins also to sob for the master. The hypocrisy is funny enough; but what makes it even funnier is that these are real tears. The phony relation has given birth to a genuine emotion (just as crummy institutions in general can...

(The entire section is 433 words.)