Social Irony in Connell’s Short Story “The Cage Man”
Irony can be defined as a double significance which arises from the contrast in values associated with two different point of view (Leech and Short, Style in fiction; 223). The most usual kind is that which involves a contrast between a point of view stated or implied in some part of the fiction, and the assumed point of view of the author, and hence of the reader. In the Richard Connell’s short story entitled “The Cage Man” it is Horace Nimms, the main character of the story, who is involved in contrast social value; between Horace Nimms point of view and my point of view. What makes this short story unique is that when in another Connell’s short story like “The Most Dangerous Game” where only a single irony occurs, that the main character, Sanger Rainsford, is being hunted reversing the Rainsford claim that he is a one of the hunters not a huntees, in “The Cage Man” there is a double irony occurs; with the historical and social issues surrounding it. Horace Nimms is told inside the story as a cashier. The definition of cashier in this story has a different meaning if it is compared to cashier meaning nowadays. In the story this job takes care of payments and expenses which related to place where he works, similar to accountant. He works for a company named the Amalgamated Soap Company. It is a company which is famously known in the story as Suds Trust. Working with style, he wears his shiny Alpaca on his working day. The company cage Horace with all the money of the company inside. Even though most of the cashier is observed as a crabbed man handing out money and saving little for personal use, “he is not of that ilk” is the way narrator describes Horace. The first irony happens when the narrator tells the reader that “When the door of the cage clanged shut in the morning he (Horace Nimms) felt soothed, at home”. This is ironic to think what this man feels while we are comparing Horace working place with the commissioned Efficiency Expert Extraordinary of Amalgamated Soap Corporation, S. Walmsley Cowan.
The steel-barred cage where Horace Nimms is locked up inside it implying he is a restrained man while the goldfish-bowl office, the working station of Cowan, is a place where everyone can see through it and, of course, he is free as please to go anywhere he wants or has to. The perplexing fact could lead to another conclusion. Horace has his own perception about the freedom. Being free is not always all about places where you can inhale and exhale fresh air to breathe or enjoy your day without surrounded by long stakes of iron. He assumes that the cage which seal him from outer world is his protector and at the same time as a playground for him. He also ironically sees the cage as his first home though his house in Flatbush was the place where he sleep and a place where he is fed by his wife. The cage is a place where his soul really belongs. If the cage is the place where he feels free, then how does he express it? It is the figure, which is a part of his job, which acts as a medium to express the freedom that he holds inside. The combination and permutation of figures amused him in the best way. “Those ten little Arabic symbols and their combinations and permutations held a fascination for him” is the way of the narrator describing how figures affect Horace. It was probably why he realizes the cage as “a temple of figures, a shrine of subtraction, an altar of addition”. It may be considered that figures and the systems relating to it has become an important part of his world, inside and outside the cage. Moreover, as a step of understanding is taken further to the story, a double irony may be found attached in the story. In the preceding paragraph it has been explained although he is kept behind the cage, he surely acts as if he were not behind cage at all; he feels his freedom inside the cage. But at the same time the cage itself is a big barrier which separates Horace from Oren Hammer, the president of the Amalgamated Soap. It was the cage that didn’t permit Horace to speak up his idea about cost-accounting system which, as Horace states, will save one-ninety-fifth a cent a cake and thus the cage itself prevented Horace to get himself overcame his own boss, having a 45 dollars salary a week and owning a cottage in Long Island. Furthermore, the reason of being of S. Cowan, the Efficiency Expert Extraordinary, actually is to make Horace out of the cage. Cowan took the part in the story as a “stimulus” for Horace and therefore for the story itself.
Through his “unusual” anatomical and psychological observation Cowan decides to place Horace from his “mathematical cage” to “mechanical cage”, replacing his position with the previous elevator man of where he worked at the moment. He makes Horace struggle to get back his “altar of addition and subtraction”, in which later in the story acted as the main reason on how Horace finally got the ear of Oren Hammer, a man who washes the faces of forty million people every morning. The loose of his cage motivates Horace to take what the Efficiency Expert Extraordinary had taken from him which used to be his dwelling for the last twenty-one year. In search of the way to “get his home back” Horace crucially confronts a chance while he is escorting his car. His eagerness and desire on getting his exalted temple back braces him to declare his existence, ignoring the cutaway coat and the dazzling top hat and the worth fifty-thousand-a-year jutting jaw which used to be admiring and intimidating, and finally distributed his cost-accounting system idea to Oren Hammer. The event implies that Horace’s strong intention to get back into his cage eliminates the evil side of the cage which once imprisoned his courage. The cage destroys the cage. Moreover, as to make irony of Horace more contrast, even though he has overcame the boundary that the cage once made and had his cost-accounting idea imparted and installed for the company, it is actually unclear whether he gets his cage back or not. Furthermore, instead of getting Horace salary raised as he has expected before, as the narrator states,” He sometimes thought, while Subwaying to his office, that if he could only get the ear of Oren Hammer some day and tell him about that cost-accounting system he might get his salary raised to forty-five”, for the reason that his genuine cost-accounting idea would help the company, it is S. Cowan who get his salary raised, as Hammer, the president of Amalgamated, says to him at the end of the story,” Before you go I want you to meet Mr. Nimms. He is going to install a new cost-accounting system for us. Just step down to the cashier’s cage with him, will you, and get your salary to date.” Moreover, there is a social issue reflected from Horace Nimms regarding his tendency being shut inside the cage and get his salary raised. This issue responds the American economical growth which started to rise following United States’ participation in World War I. The economic growth of America was marked by the booming of industrial production in order to help U.S win the war.
Therefore, the developing of new technology demanded more employees and accelerating U.S economical development as the result. In the United States, protected from the physical destruction of the war, the Industrial Revolution had begun to fulfill some of its obvious potentialities receding U.S victory in World War I. High wages and mass-production techniques had finally brought a rise in the standard of living to the working and middle classes causing great economic and widespread society, and thus had its own impact for the American society (Easton, the Western Heritage; 776). The materialism and individualism spread over the country, and Horace is one example. In the capitalistic societies of the West, man has become dependent upon the possession of enough money to meet what he believes to be his needs (Easton, the Western Heritage; 875-876). this materialism tendency makes Horace’s ambition getting his salary raised to 45 dollars much clearer, which can be seen, as it has been mentioned before, from the following sentence:” He sometimes thought, while Subwaying to his office, that if he could only get the ear of Oren Hammer some day and tell him about that cost-accounting system he might get his salary raised to forty-five”. Horace’s individualism characteristic can be tracked by his solitaire leaning, shut alone inside the cage for approximately 21 years. Horace unusual manifestation type of freedom can probably be related to his individualistic and materialistic attitude. While his condition shut inside the cage is considered by Horace as “soothing”, the former and the latter can be realized as proof for his another form of freedom, as his type of freedom is based from financial interest. Thus, in western twentieth century’s social situation, low-income and high-income workers find that their freedom is not as meaningful as might appear. The quest for money is forced upon them by the social world in which they live. So why not accept the position, like being shut inside a cage in Horace’s case, be gently tolerant toward himself and his society, but recognize at the same time that once his debt to society is paid, he is thereafter free? (Easton, the Western Heritage; 876-877)
Easton, C. Stewart. The Western Heritage. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc, 1996.
Leech, Geoffrey. Short, Mick. Style in Fiction. Pearson Education Limited, 2007.