Number Fifty-Six by Stephen Leacock
In Number Fifty-Six by Stephen Leacock we have the theme of appearance, identity, perception, dedication, connection, empathy and friendship. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Leacock may be exploring the theme of appearance. Ah-Yen throughout the story describes a customer to the narrator who in fact is the narrator. Though Ah-Yen does not know this. Instead Ah-Yen has formulated an opinion of the narrator in whereby he assumes many things about him. This may be important as it is possible that Leacock is suggesting that Ah-Yen though appearing to be astute in his observations of fifty-six’s clothes does not in fact know anything about fifty-six. If anything Ah-Yen is surmising or guessing about what he might know about fifty-six. This could be important as Leacock could be highlighting the fact that a person cannot be known simply by their appearance or the clothes they wear. Though everything fits into place for Ah-Yen he is factually incorrect. With the reality being that he does not know the narrator or at least he does not know fifty-six.
If anything Ah-Yen has formulated an opinion based on his perception of the narrator’s or fifty-six’s clothes. Though everything fits into place for Ah-Yen it is important to remember that Ah-Yen’s perceptions are incorrect. The narrator has a reasonable explanation for the condition of his clothes. Yet Ah-Yen considers that something else must have happened fifty-six’s clothes. It is also noticeable that Ah-Yen is dedicated to trying to help fifty-six. Even if he is misguided. He puts a lot of time and effort into cleaning his clothes in the hope that fifty-six will prosper both academically and in love. This may be important as though Ah-Yen is wrong in his assumptions he is still nonetheless a decent and kind man. Though he believes that he has never met fifty-six he still cares about him. Just as he cares about the narrator. How much Ah-Yen cares for fifty-six is noticeable by the fact that he drew a picture of what he thought fifty-six would look like. This too may be important as it highlights to the reader the fact that Ah-Yen, though he believes he never met fifty-six, still made a connection with him.
Though Ah-Yen’s assumptions about fifty-six were wrong he was still able to feel empathy for him. It is as though Ah-Yen was willing fifty-six to success. Which would further highlight the sense of connection that Ah-Yen felt towards fifty-six. It is also interesting that the narrator is unwilling to tell Ah-Yen the truth as this could suggest that the narrator does not want to hurt Ah-Yen’s feelings. Ah-Yen may have told an interesting tale but that is all it was. A tale which was not based on fact but on fancy. Another reason as to why the narrator does not wish to tell Ah-Yen the truth is due to the fact that he is afraid that should he tell Ah-Yen the truth the dynamic of their friendship will change. With the narrator being unwilling to lose Ah-Yen’s friendship. This too could be important as the narrator admits to living a secluded and lonely life. He is dependent on Ah-Yen’s friendship. To tell Ah-Yen the truth would mean the loss of the friendship.
While many critics might suggest that in order to sustain a friendship there should be honesty and the narrator should tell Ah-Yen the truth. The reality is that the narrator is dependent on his friendship with Ah-Yen. He likes him and does not wish to hurt his feelings nor does the narrator wish to be alone. Something that will happen should he correct Ah-Yen. It is possible that the narrator also believes that it is better for Ah-Yen to have his memories and connection with fifty-six as the narrator knows what it’s like to have no type of connection with another person. Though Ah-Yen’s memories of fifty-six bring him sadness at times. The narrator may believe it is better to have memories of someone and have made a connection with them than to have no memories and no connection. It is for this reason that the narrator most likely doesn’t wish to hurt Ah-Yen’s feelings. If anything the narrator is showing the same kindness and empathy that Ah-Yen shows to fifty-six. Their friendship being more important than an error that Ah-Yen has made. In reality Ah-Yen has caused no harm. He has hurt nobody so it would be cruel to tell him the truth as the result would only lead to Ah-Yen feeling hurt. The most important thing for the narrator is to remain silent and continue with his friendship with Ah-Yen. A man who he respects even if he has been wrong in his judgement of fifty-six. All that Ah-Yen has done is try to connect with another person and help them out the best that he can.