My Financial Career is one of Leacock’s earliest pieces, appearing in his first published humorous book, Literary Lapses. This, along with The Awful fate of Melpomemus Jones was converted into an animated short story by Gerald Potterton for the National Film Board of Canada. The essay deals with one of Leacock’s favourite theme: the effect of economics on the life of man.
Leacock was an economist and had both a deep understanding and knowledge of the common man’s distrust of the field as well as his confusion over what it actually meant and did.
He addresses this theme in his essay. Banks are living embodiment of the obscure world of finance and economics. For the ordinary individual, it is a mysterious place: as far as he is concerned he deposits his money here in the hope that it will be safe and accessible.
What he does not understand is how the bank then transforms into financial behemoth capable of determining the economic fate of nations. Again banks with their rules and regulations are intimidating to the common man.
In fact, the speaker begins by admitting this in the essay. The speaker recounts his experience when he had gone to open an account in the bank.
He says that it reduced him to a state of complete paralysis. He had no idea of what he was doing and returned after opening and closing the same account in the space of a few minutes.
The Fifty Dollars
The speaker considered the fifty dollars that he had to be a princely sum, but for the bank clerks and managers it was a mere trifle and they treated him dismissively.
The speaker here points to the fact that there is no difference between the bank and its employees. This is an interesting point that he is making.
The clerks and the managers are mere employees who earn a salary. In their individual capacity, it would not be wrong to say that they too would consider the fifty dollars to be a substantial sum.
But within the precincts of the bank, they take on the economic aura of the bank. They, in fact, are the bank. For the institution the amount is minuscule and the same applies to the employees as well.
A Substantial Client
For this reason, they treat the speaker insultingly. When the speaker enters, the bank the manager approaches him anticipating that he will prove to be a substantial client.
He takes the speaker to a vault and assures him of absolute confidentiality in all transactions. He misinterprets the speaker’s lack of confidence as a desire for confidentiality and distrust.
The manager thinks that the speaker is a private detective desirous of secrecy which he assures. When he comes to know that the speaker has come to open an account to deposit only fifty dollars he passes the speaker onto the clerks. They too treat the speaker as a non-entity.
Narrated is Disoriented
The narrator is disoriented by the manager’s change in tone and also by the clerks’ imperious attitude. When he reaches the clerk’s window he thrusts all the money into the latter’s hand and tells him to open an account. When he is informed that his money has been deposited he wants to withdraw five dollars.
By this time he is completely flustered: he thinks that people in the bank mistake him for a millionaire, He is intimidated and withdraws the entire amount thus closing the account and flees the bank. He hears the jeering laughter of the bank clerks following him even as he leaves the bank.
The essay is in the form of short crisp dialogues that swiftly move the action forward even as they reveal the psychology of the speaker and his interpretation of the others around him. The narrator’s psychological intimidation is clearly presented by an economy of detail in which the scene richly suggests more than it relates.