3 pages @350 wds/pg
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• Greatest Canadian Literature list
COMMENTARYIt is to laugh
Not much to say about this classic bit of humour. It's scarcely three pages long. You can read it on this site in a few minutes, although I'd encourage you to dip into one of the collections of Stephen Leacock's stories that are usually led by this famous, if slight, piece.
So why list "My Financial Career" as one of the great Canadian works of literature?
In the first place, very much because "My Financial Career" is so famous. Every Canadian kid studies it at some point. It's one of those stories that gets referred to by writers and others at all ages, usually with a fond smile recalling its first reading.
Saying the story is "studied" in school may be a bit of Leacockian exaggeration. Not a lot here to sink academic teeth into. It's more a fun few pages that teachers read in class with students to give them a break from the serious lit.
That's okay. It is a very funny piece that appeals to all ages. Perhaps as times change and we no longer refer to tellers as "clerks" at their "wickets" and we forget what the Rothschilds and Goulds represented and our banking experience is reduced to online transactions, it will become more difficult to identify with the situation of the main character. But the basic empathy with the embarrassment of someone in an unfamiliar environment remains. When he asks to speak to the bank manager and adds a conspiratorial "alone" without knowing why he does so, leading to a misunderstanding, we understand. We understand because it's the kind of inexplicable thing we recognize we do ourselves when we're nervously trying not to appear nervous.
I enjoy the rationales given for the stupid little things we do and say. The odd twists we put on our words to impress, when we shouldn't try to. How we go to ridiculous lengths to save face in social situations, making them even worse.
Leacock's ability to quickly tap into this feeling familiar to most of us is all the more amazing when you consider he himself was—of all things—an economics professor at a big-city university, a man who had probably grown quite at ease with financial institutions.
But all this is probably too heavy a weight to place on what is really just a clever little story with no great social or moral import.
Read it and enjoy. Or if this story doesn't make you laugh with recognition, try the next one in whatever Leacock book you've got. He wrote in so many styles that you're bound to find several that tickle you.
You can also find online a short animation of "My Financial Career" by the National Film Board, which presents the entire story word for word.