Food in the story represents the conflict between the men’s desire for the simple pleasures of nature and the comforts of modern life. Though the men profess to seek communion with the natural world, the choices they make show that they can’t leave their city selves behind, and this is particularly evident when it comes to food. Indeed, the fact that the men stock up with so much food that they require shopkeepers to help them carry their bags to the boat evidences their refusal to accept simpler fare and leave the “lumber” of life behind. A great number of the anecdotes throughout the book further link food and drink to social mores and pretensions. Take, for example, the story in which J. has to transport some pungent cheeses from Liverpool to London as a favor to his friend. In one sense, the cheese is a symbol of refinement—buying high-quality cheese shows the purchaser to have disposable income and therefore a certain standing in society. Unfortunately for J., the cheese is so smelly that everyone he encounters along his way tries to avoid him. The cheese, then, turns into a symbol of embarrassment, another reminder of the “lumber” of life.
Later in the book, the men rejoice when they remember that they’ve brought pineapple with them. Packed in a tin, the fruit symbolizes the new opportunities afforded by the modern world in which the men live; technological advances have allowed it preservation travel far across the globe. However, because the men forget their tin-opener—another piece of “lumber” from the modern world they purport to reject—they are powerless to open the pineapple, and cause themselves stress, frustration, and injury before giving up and throwing the pineapple into the river . Finally, the men take comfort in the end of the story by returning to their favorite French restaurant. Food, here, is a symbol of modern conveniences and delicacies that, despite their protestation of modernity, are what truly bring the three men comfort and joy.
Food Quotes in Three Men in a Boat
We beat it out flat; we beat it out square; we battered it into every form known to geometry—but we could not make a hole in it … There was one great dent across the top that had the appearance of a mocking grin, and it drove us furious, so that Harris rushed at the thing, and caught it up, and flung it far into the middle of the river, and as it sank we hurled our curses at it.
We went to a good many shops … by the time we had finished, we had as fine a collection of boys with baskets following us around as heart could desire; and our final march down the middle of the High Street, to the river, must have been as imposing a spectacle as Marlow had seen for a day.
‘Well,’ said Harris, reaching his hand out for his glass, ‘we have had a pleasant trip, and my hearty thanks for it to old Father Thames—but I think we did well to chuck it when we did. Here’s to Three Men well out of a boat!’ And Montmorency, standing on his hind legs, before the window, peering out into the night, gave a short bark of decided concurrence with the toast.