Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Pritchett writes in a simple, spare style, telling the story from Arthur’s point of view. Arthur sees, and clearly conveys, the unfolding of events, but he does not understand the deeper meaning of those events. He is only dimly aware of the ambiguities of his and Muriel’s relationship, and not at all aware of the ironies and hypocrisies of his own behavior. However, Arthur’s character is rounded and rises above caricature because of his questioning. Arthur tries to understand Colin’s behavior; he honestly wants to know why Muriel rejects the mechanic, and he attempts to puzzle out the deeper meaning of his and Muriel’s relationship.

Pritchett originally called this story “The Commercial Traveller,” but the editor of the magazine New Writing, in which it first appeared, convinced him to change it to “Sense of Humour.” This is a fitting title, because the story is marked by a quiet, understated, humorous view of human behavior. One of Pritchett’s strongest talents as a writer is his ability to expose the comedic aspects of people’s action without indulging in excessive mockery or crude caricature. He combines clear observation with a basic respect for others, to show the different layers of meaning in human behavior. Pritchett’s subsequent work displays the same quiet humor, powers of observation, and respect for his characters.