Three Men in a Boat

by

Jerome K. Jerome

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Three Men in a Boat: Chapter 12  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The three men approach Magna Carta Island. Nearby are the ruins of an old abbey where Henry VIII would wait for his lover, Anne Boleyn. J. complains about living with couples—how they are always “canoodling” in the places that the other housemates want to go. He says that it must have been similar with Henry and Anne, only on a much larger scale with castles instead of individual rooms.
In this imagined rendering of history, J. superimposes some of the petty concerns of his own life. This kind of houseshare depicted here was increasingly common in the urban environment of London, with its growing population.
Themes
Work and Leisure Theme Icon
History and Heritage Theme Icon
The boat goes by the place where the 11th Century Earl Godwin died, accused of killing King Cnut’s brother. According to the story, the Earl broke a piece of bread and said that, if he was guilty of the murder, the bread would choke him. He put the bread in his mouth, choked, and died.
Another history anecdote from J., but this time just a basic re-telling of the story. Again, it’s not entirely accurate—Godwin is thought to have died from a stroke, not from the experiment described. That wouldn’t be as good a story, of course.
Themes
History and Heritage Theme Icon
The three men row past Datchet. They remember being there before, and it being impossible to find a room for the night. After asking all over the town, a young boy led them to his house where they slept uncomfortably.
The three men are just a small part of an increasingly large group of middle-class holiday makers. Unfortunately, on this occasion they got to the town too late.
Themes
Work and Leisure Theme Icon
Stopping for lunch, the three men realize that they’ve forgotten to bring any mustard. Both J. and Harris say they would do anything just for a little mustard to go with their food.
The three men want mustard all the more because they know they don’t have any. They want the options available to them back in the city.
Themes
The Romanticization of Nature Theme Icon
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Their spirits are cheered when they remember that they have brought tinned pineapple with them, at least. But their happiness quickly turns to frustration as they realize they haven’t packed a tin-opener. They try frantically to get the tin open, with Harris cutting himself on his pocket-knife in the process. They get so mad that they end up throwing the pineapple into the river.
This is a perfect example of the three men’s inability to properly escape the city. The modern world, with its innovation of tinned goods, gets the better of them because they aren’t fully prepared. Pineapple, too, is a symbol of this modern world—it’s travelled a long way only to be thrown into the Thames. Again, frustration is not far below the surface veneer of leisure.
Themes
The Romanticization of Nature Theme Icon
Manners, Etiquette, and Appearances Theme Icon
Related Quotes
After lunch, the boat passes by Maidenhead, which the men say is “too snobby to be pleasant.”  J. says it’s a town of “showy hotels, patronized chiefly by dudes and ballet girls. It is the witch’s kitchen from which go forth those demons of the river–steam launches.”
J. shows a kind of reverse snobbery—he turns his nose up at those in the upper class. The men don’t like steam launches because they are supposedly less authentic than their rudimentary vessel, and, as a recent technology, remind them of their own time.
Themes
The Romanticization of Nature Theme Icon
Manners, Etiquette, and Appearances Theme Icon
A strong wind is blowing, so the men get their sail up and use it to propel them to Marlow, where they put up for the night. Along the way they manage to knock over three old fishermen, by crashing their boat into the fishermen’s.
This is yet another example of the men’s calamitous boating technique.
Themes
The Romanticization of Nature Theme Icon