My Financial Career

by Stephen Leacock

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Summary

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Last Updated April 3, 2024.

Introduction

Stephen Leacock’s short story “My Financial Career” is from his first published book of fiction, Literary Lapses (1910). “My Financial Career” uses a first-person account of a man’s experience trying to open a bank account to satirize the prestige of financial institutions. Literary Laspses was the first step in what would become a long and successful career for Leacock as a humorist author. 

Before becoming a world-renowned humorist, Leacock received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in economics and political science. Leacock was working at McGill University in Montreal, Canada when Literary Lapses was first published, but his reference to Pinkerton’s detective agency in Chicago makes it seem the story is likely set in the United States.

While reading, note that at the time of the story, 50 dollars would equate to about 1,600 dollars today, accounting for inflation.

Plot Summary

The unnamed narrator begins by admitting that banks give him anxiety. Despite claiming that entering financial institutions makes him an “irresponsible idiot,” the narrator must open a bank account to help manage his increased monthly salary: 50 dollars.

He approaches a man at a window labeled “Accountant” and requests to speak to the manager in private. The narrator is uneasy when the manager approaches, confirming nervously that the man is indeed the manager. Quietly, he asks if they could speak somewhere private.

The manager leads him to a back room, locks the door, and assures the narrator that they are in a safe place to talk. Still, the narrator can not speak due to overwhelming nerves. The manager breaks the silence by asking if the narrator is from Pinkerton’s detective agency. The narrator says no, then finally admits that he is there to open an account. 

The manager assumes it must be a large account due to the narrator’s desired secrecy. Timidly, the narrator confirms the assumption, explaining he wishes to deposit fifty-six dollars now and fifty more monthly. Quickly, the manager's demeanor changes, becoming annoyed and mocking the narrator's request. Confused and fretful, the narrator walks into the safe. The manager promptly and angrily asks him to step out of the safe and back into the public area of the bank.

Once the account is open, the narrator requests a check, intending to withdraw six dollars. Due to crippling nerves, he accidentally writes a check requesting the entire account.

When he gives the clerk the check, the clerk is surprised and confirms with the narrator that he has writtent the correct amount on the check. “Reckless with misery,” the narrator decides to proceed with his error and empties his account. The clerk asks if the narrator will deposit any more money, to which the narrator responds: “Never.”

After the embarrassing ordeal—his money in hand and echoes of laughter chasing behind—the narrator leaves the bank. He admits that he now keeps his savings in a sock and has never used a bank since the embarrassing incident.

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