Comment on how humour is created in the poem Two’s Company. What messages does it bring apart from humour?
Two’s Company is written by Raymond Wilson who is a professor of history. It is notable that his area of study is Native Americans and their culture, which is rich with rituals that revolve around Spirits and such. While this poem adopts a humorous tone, it reveals a number of important themes such as intolerance, apathy, arrogance, hypocrisy and belief. I will explore how the poet creates and uses humour to expose the above.
The poem uses techniques such as sarcasm, irony and the juxtaposition of horror and humorous elements to make the poem humorous. The introductory line of the poem itself generates humour as it sarcastically notes that it is a ‘sad story’ of someone who did not believe in ghosts. As readers we understand that it is more humorous than sad, as we witness the hypocrisy of the main character, whose arrogance leads him to the unpleasant experience he encounters. In his arrogance he decides to spend the night at the haunted house and the narrator’s sarcasm in describing the contradictions between his actions and thoughts creates humour.
Come, come, it’s merely nerves, he’s certain
The narrator tells us that the character is certain about the fact that it is his nervousness, and that he is probably imagining the rattling chains and the screams. The poet brilliantly juxtaposes his reactions and his futile attempts to convince himself of the absence of any presence. Words such as ‘certain’, ‘of course’, ‘knows’ and phrases such as ‘someone’s outside, the silly joker’ emphasize these attempts to convince himself, and to dispel his doubts and fears. He continues to be deeply troubled by the unsettling things that happen, and reacts in fear, but continues to believe that there can be no possibility of ghosts. The addition of bracketed phrases adds a layer of humour to the poem as they are similar to asides which comment on the actions in a rather tongue-in-cheek (ironic and insincere, evoking humour and/or ridicule) nature.
The main character shuns and rejects the idea of the existence of ghosts and ridicules it; this is similar to the attitude certain people have about beliefs and concepts that differ from what they advocate. He calls them tittle tattle which means nonsense. Rather than being open-minded about alternative ideas, he attempts to prove them wrong. This shows his arrogance and excessive self-confidence. It shows a condescending attitude towards any belief that is different to his. This can also be taken as a critique against western society which tends to write off indigenous/local knowledge systems and belief systems as inferior and baseless superstitions. However, the poet uses humour to expose the hypocrisy of the character. Rather than someone who does not believe in ghosts as the poet indicates at the beginning, the readers begin to realize that he believes that there are no ghosts. Even his seemingly certain knowledge is questioned during the course of the poem. He wants to prove that belief in ghosts is baseless. But we are shown that his ‘belief’ that ghosts do not exist is also merely a belief and not necessarily a fact. It reminds us that absence of proof is not proof of absence. Therefore, the poem critiques the arrogance shown by narrow minded people and it questions the popular belief of the reliability of western science.