What a humbling confrontation of morality and business would Mr. Tomlinson observe if he ever gave it a deeper thought – although, according to the author’s plan, he never did. It is the readers that should think, and Stephen Leacock’s “The Wizard of Finance” easily provokes thinking. The author puts Mr. Tomlinson, the protagonist, and his talent for always being at an advantage, into political and financial decorations of real-life America in the early XX century. At first sight, the story seems a sheer absurdity. However, a single look under the mask of sentimental nonsense shows the reader yet another picture. The author smartly discloses the dubious relationships of man and money in the background of serious historical events.
In the context of the author’s personality, Stephen Leacock’s social conservative convictions are notable. He denied suffrage, and his attitude towards immigrants was strictly negative. What is more important, Leacock’s satire is a reflection of his viewpoint in relation to the government’s intervention in the financial area. The conflict between the author’s conservative vision and progressivism, which encouraged such intervention, is traced throughout his works. To understand the author’s attitude, it should be realized that Leacock’s book of short stories was published in 1914, a critical date on a worldwide scale. For the United States, this year meant a shift of power. Significantly, both Presidents replacing each other at that period were committed to ideas that were unacceptable for Leacock. Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft shared their progressive views but confronted each other in terms of economics. Roosevelt wished for common people to be free of governmental interference with their entrepreneurship. He also feared the excessive powers that economic giants tended to wield. At that, Taft proclaimed the atmosphere of competition and did not entirely approve of infinite economic opportunities for small businesses. These confrontations and frequent paradigm shifts in terms of finance are an integral part of the atmosphere created by Leacock and his caricatured narrative.
The motif of gold and the generalized image of money plays a significant part in the story. The reader cannot but feel the author’s bitterness over the open wounds left by the gold rush on the face of America. The image of greedy hands reaching out to gold, and the money it brings, is almost tangible. Leacock makes it clear that, in the world of finance, gold and money are simultaneously a panacea and an object of worship. To Mr. Tomlinson’s simple world of common people, however, they are a matter of little importance. Tomlinson’s requirements are not complicated; he lacks the greed that other people have, and he feels he was not made for the style of life that money forces him to live. His natural habitat is that of honest labour and robust rural happiness (which is another reflection of the author’s conservative values expressed implicitly). His straightforward attitude appears a dramatic, almost horrifying contrast to that of his friends and foes in business. To them, money is a substance as vital and natural for living as water. The financiers trying to outrun each other in the rush for money and stocks think that through the property they can acquire power. Yet, it is clear to the reader that they act like slaves trying to predict their Master’s slightest whims. Thus, the reader can single out Stephen Leacock’s main argument: one’s control over money is illusionary. It is the money that is in control of everything.
The author operates his viewpoint by introducing the concept of money through the ideas of politics and morality. Throughout the text, these two notions are depicted as antagonists. This might be a hint at the author’s conservative values and his intolerance to progressivist policies the Presidents conducted. To the author’s perception, the political approach regards money as the primary goal, the endpoint of every undertaking. In his opinion, what money and capital contribute to politics is the possibility for major capitalists to control politicians and parties. The only step to effectively guard the actions of the government is money, the author reckons. To understand the cause of these accusatory ideas, it is necessary to keep in mind that one of the central issues of the Progressive Era was corruption, to which morality is the opposite pole.
In terms of morality, however, money is understood differently. It is worth noticing that the purpose of placing Mr. Tomlinson in the atmosphere of financial vampirism is strictly didactic. In this context, he is the living epitome of moral values, because of his attitude towards money and wealth in general. Tomlinson’s brain is constructed so that its owner does not get under the control of money as the others do. While by the overwhelming majority money is seen as the Absolute, he feels it as a heavy burden. Tomlinson is tormented by his sudden stature and the fact that his silent ignorance is treated as creativity. His family is affected as well. His spouse is afflicted by the alien role of a social lioness. His son produces a protective response to the mayhem by thinking up an illness and suffering from idleness. As commoners, they are not used to seeing money as an ultimate goal of existence, and at that, the reader hears the voice of Stephen Leacock speaking with the mouths of ordinary people. Real wealth is achieved by insight, ingenuity, and skillfulness, and for this reason, the author and his characters regard money as a means to the endpoint of wealth, not the wealth itself.
To conclude, the historical period and economic circumstances in which Stephen Leacock wrote his work allow the reader to view the concepts of money and politics introduced by the author in a particular way. The author’s personal views are reflected in his bitter irony over such serious subjects as finance and the satiric image of those who are addicted to money. Implicitly, the author gives the reader an account of his idea of money, which, he believes, was created to be controlled by man, but eventually seized the power and took over human minds and souls. It is demonstrated by the behavior of Mr. Tomlinson’s fellow financiers whose whole lives consist in seeking profit. Through such an example, the author dwells on the concept of money from the viewpoint of politics and morality, which he considers mutually exclusive areas. In politics, he suggests, money is the means of capitalists’ control over corrupted politicians. As to the moral viewpoint, money is not the only component of wealth: it is a means of achieving wealth. Not stating his ideas clearly, the author presents his arguments in a grotesque form making the reader think and reason.