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Chapter 11 concludes with a sentimental historical interlude, and in turn, addresses the theme of retension. As the men approach Magna Charta Island, Jerome imagines what it would have been like to be a peasant when King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. To a certain extent, this passage tips Jerome’s political hand. It is notable that despite his middle-class background (and his patronizing attitude toward ‘Arrys and ‘Arriets in the previous chapters), he identifies with the peasants rather than the bourgeoisie or the nobles. His positive description of the Magna Carta as “the great cornerstone in England’s temple of liberty” also hints at Jerome’s populist sentiments.
Much of Jerome’s satire targets pretension, especially the pretensions of the middle and upper classes. His treatment of pretension is similar to his treatment of hypocrisy, and the two themes are themselves closely related. Pretension has more to do with how people present themselves to the world. One of the most scathing sequences in the novel comes when Jerome skewers the pretensions of J. and his friends, who discuss philosophy and pretend to speak German in an effort to be ‘high-class.’ In this passage, Jerome is not mocking the activities, but rather the fact that they are pursuing them not out of genuine interest, but rather in hopes of bolstering their reputations among their friends. Overall, Jerome presents a world of people who develop illusions about themselves that are easily punctured if they are closely examined.
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