So seemingly perfect is Harold Bramble that the adults in his life fear that the truth of his father’s profession would damage his delicate sensibilities. Harold’s mother, Jane Bramble, insists that “his very perfection had made necessary a series of evasions and even deliberate falsehoods on the part of herself and her husband.” However, immediately thereafter, the story goes into greater detail about how the couple’s charade began: “While he was a baby it had not mattered so much. But when he began to move about and take notice, Mrs. Bramble said to Mr. Bramble, ‘Bill, we must keep it from Harold.’” The fact that the Brambles first agreed to hide the truth about Bill Bramble’s boxing only when Harold started to “move about and take notice” calls into question their claim that his singular virtue is what prompted them to lie. The story ultimately argues that the supposed immorality of boxing is secondary to the Brambles’ general class anxiety, which, itself, is presented as arbitrary and shallow.
Bill’s winnings from boxing allow the Bramble family to live in a comfortable and respectable fashion, with sufficient funds to pay for Harold’s private school tuition and plentiful books, as well as for servants to take care of the household. As Harold gives a poetic recitation early in the story, Wodehouse illustrates how the boy’s brilliant intellect appears to correspond to the grandness of his environment: “He cleared his throat and fixed his eyes upon the cut-glass hangings of the chandelier.” Yet the Brambles evidently feel that these middle-class comforts should have a corresponding white-collar foundation, seeing that they invent a traveling salesman job for Bill in place of his true profession.
Harold’s apparent “perfection,” thoroughly in keeping with his well-to-do upbringing, causes his parents to feel even more insecure about the way of life that had previously suited them. Before Harold was born, Bill happily “had gone about the world with a match-box full of press-notices, which he would extract with a pin and read to casual acquaintances.” Now, of course, he is plainly ashamed to admit to Harold, who was born into this rarified lifestyle, that he supports the family by the lowlier profession of boxing. Wodehouse writes, “With an ordinary boy it would have mattered less. But Harold was different […] The fact was, as Bill himself put it, Harold was showing a bit too much class for them.”
So genteel is Harold that his parents “had come to regard him as a being of a superior order.” According to Harold’s parents, “You simply couldn’t take a boy like that aside and tell him that the father whom he believed to be a commercial traveller was affectionately known to a large section of the inhabitants of London as ‘Young Porky.’” A boy like Harold, they believe, would never want to be associated with a father whom the public regards with such familiarity and knows by such a crass nickname. That the Brambles consider Harold to belong to a higher “class” or “order” than them specifically suggests they worry that he would look down upon them if he knew how they really earned their means. Beloved by the coarse masses, boxing is a violent, low form of entertainment, not worthy of the highbrow boy who learns poetry by heart in his free time.
As such, the Brambles seek to distance themselves from the commonness associated with boxing. Bill hopes to soon replace his “disgraceful” labor with a more socially-acceptable teaching post “at one of these big schools or colleges. He had a splendid record for respectability and sobriety and all the other qualities which headmasters demanded in those who taught their young gentlemen to box.” Ironically, young gentlemen may take boxing lessons and remain gentleman; only he who boxes for a living is seen as a disgrace. The Brambles don’t seem to be conscious of this prejudiced paradox at the heart of their standards of respectability. In fact, even the young men of affluence and intellect with whom Harold attends school all glorify these figures of pure strength and grit. Harold testifies, “There’s a fellow at our school who goes about swanking in the most rotten way because he once got Bombardier Wells’s autograph. Fellows look up to him most awfully, and all the time they might have been doing it to me.” When Bill realizes that he has the approval of his “little gentleman,” he immediately relents and returns to his training.
This all suggests that the upper classes derive a particular kind of pleasure from this brush with the less civilized side of life, a spectacle that they can observe without ever having to experience such rough circumstances for themselves. The sheltered rich can take even more vicarious pleasure in the sport of boxing than everyone else, the story implies, though they’re no less “wicked” and bloodthirsty than the fighters in the ring. Ironically, the Brambles’ misunderstanding of elite tastes only further reinforces their alienation from the very class they aspire to belong to; “gentlemanly” Harold would have been happy with the truth all along.
Class and Social Status ThemeTracker
Class and Social Status Quotes in Keeping it from Harold
He cleared his throat and fixed his eyes upon the cut-glass hangings of the chandelier.
“‘Be good, sweet maid,’” he began, with the toneless rapidity affected by youths of his age when reciting poetry, “‘and let who will be clever’—clever, oh yes—‘do noble things, not dream them’—dream them, oh yes—‘dream them all day long; and so make life, death, and that vast f’rever, one’—oh yes—‘one grand, sweet song.’”
And then Harold had come into his life, and changed him into a furtive practiser of shady deeds. Before, he had gone about the world with a match-box full of press-notices, which he would extract with a pin and read to casual acquaintances. Now, he quailed at the sight of his name in print, so thoroughly had he become imbued with the necessity of keeping it from Harold.
“He’s seen the error of his ways,” cried Percy, the resilient. “That’s what he’s gone and done. At the eleventh hour it has been vouchsafed to me to snatch the brand from the burning. Oh! I have waited for this joyful moment. I have watched for it. I—”
“Goodness knows I’ve never liked your profession, Bill, but there is this to be said for it, that it’s earned you good money and made it possible for us to give Harold as good an education as any duke ever had, I’m sure. And you know yourself you said that the five hundred pounds you were going to get if you beat this Murphy, and even if you lost it would be a hundred and twenty, was going to be a blessing, because it would let us finish him off proper and give him a better start in life than you or me ever had.”
“There’s a fellow at our school who goes about swanking in the most rotten way because he once got Bombardier Wells’s autograph. Fellows look up to him most awfully, and all the time they might have been doing it to me. That’s what makes me so jolly sick. How long do you suppose they’d go on calling me ‘Goggles’ if they knew that you were my father?”