Ironic Sketches of a little town


Ironic Sketches of a Little Town
It takes a certain type of character to see the humour in everyday life. It takes an even greater character to express the humour in ways that other people can appreciate and subsequently find gaiety therein. Stephen Leacock is such a character, and his compilation of short stories Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town recognizes, and assists the reader to recognize, one\'s need to laugh at their surroundings, their culture, and the people that interact in their lives.
Leacock is known for his profound ironic and satirical wit but, in the case of Sunshine Sketches, he offers aspects of tragic irony and sagacious insight with regards to everyday, small-town life as well, which serves to further enhance the value of his humour.
Just as Leacock was interested in the techniques of humor, he was interested in the language of humor. Besides the careful selection of language, said Leacock, humor demanded a "great naturalness" of language, the use of phrases and forms so simple that writers straining after effect would never get them. [Critics] felt that one of the main reasons for Leacock\'s success was that his style was that of "a talker rather than a writer". Another said..."He talked to the world. And the talk was good." (Curry. p.242-243)

Satire is defined as a genre in which the author attacks some object, using his means of wit or humour that is either fantastic or absurd. In the case of Sunshine Sketches, Leacock\'s target is a fictitious small town in southern Ontario, which could be, and often is, compared to all other small towns across the country. Leacock immerses the reader amidst a collection of ordinary characters who become extraordinary due to Leacock\'s grasp of the comedy within human nature and the scope of small-town culture and tradition.
By utilizing elements of both comic and tragic irony, which by definition suggest varying divisions between words or events and their contexts, Leacock not only creates a humorous environment for his characters, but also one in which the reader may laugh at situations and idiosyncrasies which are strikingly similar to their own. Events such as the sinking of the Mariposa Belle in six feet of water and the subsequent rescue attempts by Mariposans, the comedic courting rituals of the extremely shy Peter Pupkin, and the inane attempts to raise money on behalf of the church are all examples of these sharp, ironic situations.
To understand the irony in any work, one must first appreciate the context of such a work. With regards to Sunshine Sketches, the town of Mariposa resembles any other town of its day; a place where everybody knows everybody, and the distinctness of character is very apparent among the citizens. The events are simplistic and possess an unstated air of politeness and manners that couldn\'t be found in larger cities. What the reader is exposed to is a good-natured, well-intentioned group of people who simply live Murphy\'s Law; that what can go wrong, surely will, and definitely does. Leacock adds the satirical and ironic twists to each storyline which enlightens the otherwise mundane happenings in the community. The ideas that those on the sinking ship eventually save the rescuers, or that all fund raising contributions are conditional on non-existent actual donations, or that the community\'s illiterate hotel owner is elected into political office by way of trickery and manipulation, are all representations of these twists.


The context of all irony lies in the knowledge of comparison. Leacock himself said:
Comparison is the very soul of humor...It is the discovery of resemblance and the lack of it that builds up the contrasts, discrepancies, and incongruities on which...humor depends.
(Curry. p.244)

If something that is well understood to suggest one thing, is suddenly used to suggest something completely different, the result can often be hilarious; such is the case with Sunshine Sketches. The first story introduces the reader to Josh Smith, but more important, this story creates the framework within which the ridiculous happenings of Mariposa will take place. The context and the nature of the town and those who run it is established very early as the notion of population is discussed:
...the Canadian census puts the numbers every time at something