Many of the adults in “Keeping It from Harold” profess to act selflessly. Bill and Jane Bramble, for instance, hide the truth of Bill’s boxing career from their virtuous son allegedly to save him from feeling offended or ashamed; Percy and Jerry (Bill’s trainer), for their part, insist they’re only trying to convince Bill to follow the most advantageous course for his future. However, Wodehouse shows that these supposedly noble and unselfish adult concerns are actually prompted by simple pride. The story satirizes the futile taboo against openly acting in one’s own best interest. Indeed, only Harold himself—a child ostensibly less aware of or concerned with social propriety—freely acknowledges his opportunism. A healthy amount of human pride is natural and inevitable, Wodehouse ultimately implies, and denying this is useless.
The Brambles are extremely pleased with their bright, well-behaved son, to the extent that they elevate him far above themselves: Wodehouse writes, “Proud of him as they were, both Bill and his wife were a little afraid of their wonderful child.” Their high regard for Harold leads them to imagine that he has duly high standards for them. As such, Bill becomes fiercely determined to keep his rough livelihood hidden from his son, lest Harold “die of shame,” or “die of the disgrace of it.” When Bill is set to retire, Jane is intensely relieved: “For the first time since Harold had reached years of intelligence she was easy in her mind about the future.”
Harold’s parents badly want to keep their beloved son from feeling disappointed in them. Jane in particular makes her husband and son the core of her existence, and her place in their lives the only purpose from which she can derive any self-worth. From the start readers see that she is a “domestic creature, wrapped up in Bill, her husband, and Harold, her son.” When she beholds Harold, Wodehouse notes her “extraordinary resemblance to a sheep surprised while gloating over its young.” Likening Jane to a “domestic creature” such as a “sheep” characterizes her as a being who lives only to breed a fitter generation.
Bill formerly had a great deal of pride in his own independent accomplishments, and even carried “a match-box full of press-notices, which he would extract with a pin and read to casual acquaintances.” However, since Harold’s birth, this vast pride that constantly fed upon the admiration of multitudes can only find like fulfillment in one boy’s regard. Believing that this regard would be entirely extinguished should Harold learn the truth of his profession, Bill is willing to back out of a critical match and trade the esteem of millions for his son’s respect. Unmoved by Jerry’s reminder to think “of all the swells that’ll be coming to see [him],” Bill insists, “I’ve got to think of Harold.”
The extent in which Bill’s pride in himself is contingent upon Harold is evident when he swears to his son that he won’t fight anymore—“Not if the King of England come to me on his bended knees.” This devotion to his son is certainly laudable, and in some ways a rejection of his earlier pride in his career; at the same time, though, his decision is fueled by the desire to avoid inducing shame, the opposite of pride, in himself or his child.
Percy, meanwhile, claims that he couldn’t help but intervene in Bill’s life out of selfless concern for his brother-in-law’s fate if he continued to follow his “wicked ways” as “a man of wrath.” However, Wodehouse implies that Percy cares more about his personal triumph than Bill’s salvation. Throughout the story, Percy emphasizes his own achievement rather than Bill’s decision: “I been wrestling with Bill, and I been vouchsafed the victory,” Percy announces to his sister when he and Bill decamp from the training center. He continues to boast: “‘I been vouchsafed the victory,’ repeated the major […] ‘At the eleventh hour it has been vouchsafed to me to snatch the brand from the burning.’”
Jerry also maintains that he’s invested in Bill’s training for Bill’s sake. He entreats his trainee: “Think of the purse […] Think of the Lonsdale belt they’ll have to let you try for if you beat this Murphy […] Think of all the trouble you’ve took for the last weeks getting yourself into condition.” However, when Bill continues to refuse him, Jerry’s goodwill sours and he becomes increasingly agitated. After he pleads with Bill to think “of what the papers’ll say” and, then, to “think of me,” the reader begins to suspect that what most concerns Jerry are his pride and reputation as a trainer. Eventually Jerry seizes the opportunity to get back at Bill for the humiliation of losing his champion before the biggest fight in his career: “He considered that he had been badly treated, and what he wanted most at the moment was revenge. He had been fond and proud of Bill Bramble, but those emotions belonged to the dead past.” His warm pride in Bill only lasts as long as Bill’s wins bolster his Jerry’s pride in himself.
Harold is the only character who openly admits to serving his pride. When he hears about his father’s career, he calls it as he sees it: an opportunity to boost his reputation among his peers. “Pa, can’t you give me a picture of yourself boxing? I could swank like anything,” he exclaims. Harold’s parents have kept the truth about Bill’s boxing from him precisely because they’ve believed he would not be as impressed with Bill’s physical feats as all the simple “swells” in London were. They believed that their “perfect” son would be above taking pride in his father’s fame. Ironically, Harold is thrilled at the chance to impress the other boys with his famous father—“they’d […] look up to me like anything,” he declares.
Harold’s humorously self-serving reaction proves that his parents were wrong to imagine him unaffected by the human weakness of pride. No matter what lengths the adults went to convince themselves that they were acting purely in another’s interest, they couldn’t escape the force of pride and merely deluded themselves. In the end, everyone is happiest when they are honest with their desires, and their pride is appeased—Harold’s parents no longer have to fear his punishing disappointment, Jerry can hope for a championship, and Harold can chuck the taunt of “Goggles.” Only Percy and his “foolish talk” are foiled, which suggests Wodehouse’s disapproval of vain moralizing.
Pride 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?”