P. G. Wodehouse

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How does P. G. Wodehouse create humor in "The Custody of the Pumpkin" through language, events, or irony?

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Wodehouse uses a familiar trope in his work as he describes an opening event in this story: the servant as much smarter than his bumbling, somewhat idiotic employer. This role reversal and the unflappable calm of Beach, the butler, who treats his employer's idiocy with straight-faced seriousness, raises laughs:

"I can't see at all, dash it. It's all black."

The butler was an observant man.

"Perhaps if I were to remove the cap at the extremity of the instrument, m'lord, more satisfactory results might be obtained."

The dry skewering of Lord Emsworth's complete incompetency is comically emphasized in the line: "The butler was an observant man." After all, how observant does one have to be to notice that a telescope is still covered with a cap? The situational irony here is that the servant is smarter than the master: in a just world, this would be reversed.

Wodehouse also uses personification and hyperbole (exaggeration) to comic effect as he writes:

Unlike the male codfish, which, suddenly finding itself the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all, the British aristocracy is apt to look with a somewhat jaundiced eye on its younger sons.

We laugh at the assigning of human attributes to a creature like a codfish. It is absurd to envision such a fish as a doting, cheery parent and even more so to imagine it loving all of its exaggerated litter of upwards of three million offspring. The comparison—or contrast—of the codfish to the British aristocracy is so odd as to make us laugh.

Wodehouse relentlessly keeps piling up the absurdities using irony, events, and language until we can't help but continue to be amused.

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We can actually see an excellent example of ironic figurative language being used to create comic effect in the very first paragraph. He opens the story by describing the morning sun shining on the setting and the characters; however, he describes the sunshine in such a way as to liken it to rainfall, as we see in the phrase, "The morning sunshine descended like an amber shower-bath on Blandings Castle," and using the word "like" to describe one thing by comparing it to another is of course a simile. But what's very interesting about the simile that makes it ironic, meaning contrary to what one would expect, is that sunshine is not typically likened to rainfall as they are actually exact opposites. He continues to create comic effect using this simile by describing every person and object that the sunshine lit up as if the sunshine was falling upon them, just like rainfall, just as if they were displeased by the "sunshine fall" in the same way that they would be displeased by becoming wet due to rainfall. We especially see this comic effect in the lines:

It fell on the baggy trousers-set of Angus MacAllister, head-gardener to the ninth Earl of Emsworth ... It fell on the white flannels of Hon ... It also fell on Lord Emsworth himself and on Beach, his faithful butler.

Hence, this description of all of the people that the sunshine has so unexpectedly fallen upon creates a comic effect because it is certainly an ironic description.

Further comic irony can be seen in Wodehouses description of the event concerning the telescope at the beginning of the story, particularly the moment the cow comes into play. We are told that Lord Emsworth purchased a telescope immediately after reading an article on astronomy, and, in the beginning of the story, he is giving the telescope a test run. However, what's very funny and ironic in the sense that it is different from what would be expected is that the first thing he looks at through the telescope is a cow. Lord Emsworth continues to look at the cow, while we would expect him to be looking at things more astronomically related, until he gets bored of the cow, or as the author more comically phrases it:

It was a fine cow, as cows go, but like so many cows, it lacked sustained dramatic interest. Surfeited after a while by the spectacle of it chewing cud and staring glassily at nothing, Lord Emsworth decided to swivel the apparatus ....

In this passage, the phrase "sustained dramatic interest" is certainly a comic way to describe the cow as it contrasts greatly with what cows are and do. Something that creates "sustained dramatic interest" would likely be more active, like a wildcat roaming through the estate's park, and just like the author describes, the cow is chewing cud and "staring glassily at nothing." Hence the descriptive phrase of the cow creates comedy by being a very true, ironic contrast with the cow. In addition, even the descriptive phrase "staring glassily at nothing" creates a comic effect by simply describing what's perfectly true about cows.

Hence, we see that a great deal of comedy can be seen all throughout the story in many different forms. 

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