the full story is as follows

A member of Parliament met a newsboy doing his delivery. The lad was of such small size, and the newspapers he was delivering so heavy, that the gentleman was moved to pity. “Son,” he asked, “don’t all those papers make you tired?” “No, sir,” cheerfully replied the bit of humanity, “I can’t read.”

My understanding is that the story criticizes the gentleman's superfluous condescending pity, while my friend believes it underlines the gap between two people's status and learning.

How should we understand “cheerfully replied the bit of humanity” and the story?

  • 2
    This is an interpretative question. He was trying to be kind to the boy and the boy made a joke of it based on the two possible readings: tired from reading versus tired from carrying a heavy load. The boy, in fact, gets the better of him. If anything, it shows you can be clever regardless of your circumstances (not being able to read). "Superfluous condescending pity" is just not there in the writing.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 18:15

1 Answer 1


"Bit of humanity" is a roundabout or humorous way of referring to the boy. A bit is a very small thing or amount. The joke has already emphasized the boy's "diminutive" (small) size and the large load of newspapers; it is setting us up to understand the gentleman's question the way he meant it: "Doesn't [carrying] those papers make you tired?" The boy's response, like the punchline of many jokes, relies on the cognitive dissonance of a misunderstanding, interpreting the question as "Doesn't [reading] those papers make you tired?"

The joke can leave it at that, really, and just make us laugh because of the reversal of our expectations. Though if we want to read more into it, it could be taken as making an argument along the lines of "ignorance is bliss": The boys cheerful illiteracy shields him from the burden or sorrow of current events. This is perhaps reading more into it than is intended, though.

  • 2
    I agree , but would like to add that for native speakers, the phrase "the bit of humanity" is startling and quite odd. It is clearly a literary device and not normal speech or writing. Commented Mar 1, 2022 at 22:45

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