Jonathan Swift has suggested that “Satire is a sort of
Glass, wherein Beholders do generally discover every body’s Face
their own; which is the chief reason…that so few are offended
with it.” Richard Garnett suggests that, “Without humour, satire
is invictive; without literary form, and it is mere clownish
jeering.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 14th ed. vol. 20 p. 5).
Whereas Swift’s statement suggests that people are not offended
by satire because readers identify the character’s faults with
their own faults; Garnett suggests that humour is the key element
that does not make satire offensive. With any satire someone is
bound to be offended, but the technique the author uses can
change something offensive into something embarrassing.
Stephen Leacock’s Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich is
a nonthreatening, humorous, and revealing satire of the moral
faults of upper class society. The satire acts as a moral
instrument to expose the effect money can have on religion,
government, and anything within its touch. Writing about such
topics is hard to do without offending people. Leacock’s
technique combines money with humour, and accompanies his moral
message with ironic characters; their exaggerated actions, and a
constant comical tone to prevent readers from being offended.
Leacock’s utopian world is filled with humorous labels that
represent the “Plutonian’s” personalities. “Ourselves Monthly”; a
magazine for the modern self-centered, is a Plutonian favourite.
To fill their idle days, the Plutonian women are in an endless
search for trends in literature and religion. Without the
distractions of club luncheons and trying to achieve the “Higher
Indifference”, the women would have to do something productive.
Readers that identify themselves with the class of people the
Plutonians represent would be embarrassed rather than offended by
Leacock’s satirical portrayal of them.
“The Yahi-Bahi Oriental Society” exaggerates the stupidity
of the Plutonians to a point where the reader laughs at the
character’s misfortunes. The con men give ridiculous prophecies
such as “Many things are yet to happen before others begin.”
(Leacock 87), and eventually take their money and jewelry. The
exaggeration increases the humour while the moral message is
The characters of the novel are ironic in the sence that
they percieve themselves as being the pinicle of society, yet
Leacock makes the look like fools. For someone who prides
themself on being an expert on just about everything, Mr.
Lucullus Fyshe’s (as slimmy and cold as his name represents)
perceptions are proven false. Mr. Fyshe makes hypocratic
statments about ruling class tyranny, while barking down the neck
of a poor waiter for serving cold asparagus.
Leacock exposes the whole Plutonian buisness world to be
fools by the their encounter with Mr. Tomlinson. A man who knows
live-stock; not stock market, is percieved as a finacial genius.
When Mr. Tomlinson replies that he does know about an investment,
the Plutonian reaction is:
“He said he didn’t Know!” repeated the listener, in a
tone of amazement and respect. “By Jove! eh? he said
he didn’t know! The man’s a wizard!”
“And he looked as if he didn’t!” went on Mr. Fyshe.
After Mr. Tomlinson is discovered to be a plain farmer, and his
fortune falls, the Plutorians are seen eating their words:
“Now , ‘I said , for I wanted to test the fellow, `tell
me what that means?’ Would you believe me, he looked
me right in the face in that stupid way of his, and he
said, `I don’t know!'”
“He said he didn’t know!” repeated the listener
contemptuously; “the man is a fool!” (leacock 66)
On Plutoria avenue money makes the man and the fool.
Worth and expense are important for the inhabitants of
Plutoria avenue. Even the birds are “the most expensive kind of
birds” (Leacock 7). The innocents, Mr. Tomlinson and his family,
show that for Plutorians personal worth is based on the amount of
money an individual has. The media builds up Mr. Tomlinson to be
a financial genius, because of his great amount of money and his
mysterious look. His “look” is a confused man caught in a world
of which he has no understanding, but the money makes him the
“Great dominating character of the newest and highest finance.”
(Leacock 36). Mr. Tomlinson’s wife is described by the media as
setting new trends, and shaking the fashion world. She could have
worn a garbage bag in public, and probably received the same
review. Leacock exaggerates the obsession of money to a humorous
point that not even religion is spared.
Religion is a social event and business opportunity for
Plutonians. Rather than spiritual worth, St. Asaph and St. Osoph
churches are humorously described by mortgages, dollars per
square feet, and Bible give away debits. Priests work for the
church that offers them the most money, and has the best social
life. It would not be surprising if the two churches sold
In the real world corruption of the church would be
offensive to allot of people, but when desguised in humour
Leacock shields the readers from personal offence.
Leacock touches on the controvesal topic of updating church
doctrine by creating a humorous misunderstanding between Rev.
Furlong and his father:
“Now we,” he went on, “I mean the Hymnal Supply
Corporation, have an idea for bringing out an entirelynew
“A new Bible!” he gasped.
“Precisely!” said his father, “a new Bible! This one –
and we find it every day in our business – is all
“All wrong!” said the rector with horror on his face. /
“For the market of to-day this Bible” – and he poised
it again on his hand, as to test its weight, “is too
heavy. The people of to-day want something lighter,
something easier to get hold of.” (Leacock 149).
The humorous exchange is not offensive, yet maintains its moral
Satire’s primary use is to expose. If no one was offended
or embarrassed by it then the work and the humour is an end in
itself. Leacock’s technique creates a
Garnett, Richard. Encyclopedia Brtannica, 14th ed. Chicago:
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1959.
Leacock, Stephen. Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1989.
Allen and Stephens. Satire, Theory and Practice. ed. Allen and
Stephens. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing