The Custody of the Pumpkin by P.G. Wodehouse
In The Custody of the Pumpkin by P.G. Wodehouse we have the theme of control, class, selfishness, arrogance, prejudice, pride and change. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Wodehouse may be exploring the theme of control. Emsworth does not like the fact that Freddie is courting Niagara who may not be a suitable prospect in Emsworth’s eyes. If anything by telling Freddie that he must not see Niagara Emsworth is attempting to control Freddie’s environment. Dictating to him who he may or may not see. Similarly when Emsworth tells McAllister that Niagara must leave his home there is a sense that Emsworth is again attempting to control the environment around him. He longs for Freddie to marry someone who may be of the same class as him which would suggest to the reader the importance of not only class to Emsworth but of money too. If anything Emsworth is being prejudicial when it comes to Freddie’s choice of the type of woman he chooses to court. Emsworth also feels drained by Freddie which may be important as Emsworth may feel as though Freddie is an unnecessary burden. A burden he no longer wishes to carry. Which may suggest to some readers that Emsworth is a selfish man.
McAllister’s role in the story is also interesting as despite thinking he can control McAllister. It is McAllister who is controlling Emsworth. Something that is noticeable by the fact that McAllister only returns to his job when his wage are doubled by Emsworth. The fact that all the main characters in the story are men may also be important as Wodehouse could be highlighting the fact that at the time the story was written society was dominated by men. Particularly men of class and wealth. Men like Emsworth and Donaldson. If anything Wodehouse could be mocking those who are middle class or upper class (Emsworth) and suggesting that money or wealth is the new distinction for class (Donaldson). It is also noticeable that Emsworth’s attitude towards Donaldson changes when he discovers how wealthy Donaldson is. The fact that Donaldson is American and has made his money in America might also be significant as Emsworth may be associated with the British Empire yet the reality is at the time the story was written. The British Empire was beginning to crumble with America taking over as the predominant commercial and military force in the world.
The pumpkin itself may also hold some significance as for Emsworth it is not only a thing of joy but it is something that will give him in his eyes superiority over Sir Gregory. For others the pumpkin is nothing more than a vegetable but for Emsworth it is something that he will be able to brag about. If anything the pumpkin, particularly should it win the contest, allows Emsworth to be more arrogant than he already is. Judging himself to be better than Sir Gregory when the reality is that Emsworth cannot see how selfish he may be. The real winner of the contest is McAllister because it is through his hard-work that the pumpkin has flourished. Emsworth has done no more than stand on the side-lines watching McAllister and the pumpkin’s progress. Though due to his arrogance this is not something that Emsworth is able to see. At no stage in the story does the reader suspect that Emsworth has the ability to put someone else ahead of himself.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Emsworth appears to be driven not only by an individual’s social class or wealth but also by his own pride. This may explain as to why Emsworth is so set against Freddie and Niagara’s relationship. It is possible that he does not wish for the Earldom of Emsworth to decline. Something that he feels will happen should Freddie continue in a relationship with Niagara. Also Emsworth is too proud to allow Sir Gregory beat him though interestingly enough he is not too proud to beg McAllister to return to work. Most likely because he knows that he is reliant or dependent on McAllister if he is to stand any chance of winning the contest. It is as though Emsworth is out of touch with reality. The world at the time the story was written was beginning to change yet there is no sense that Emsworth himself has the ability to change. He cannot see past an individual’s class or wealth. Allowing both to sway his opinion about an individual and those who are lower class have little to offer him (Robert Barker). However when they do Emsworth is prepared to use them too for his benefit. Again the most important person in Emsworth’s life seems to be Emsworth.