Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Examples of Ironical Elements

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Chapter 15 features a ‘callback’ to earlier in the text. The men’s argument about who will tow the boat is similar to earlier arguments they have about who will perform the most difficult jobs. (For example, consider the way Harris and J. force George to tow the boat out of Shepperton.) Both moments also reflect a similar sense of irony, since J. speaks proudly about his work ethic in both places while being clearly unwilling to work.


The dead woman in Chapter 16 heralds a marked departure from Jerome's usually comedic tone. Although it only unfolds over a few pages, the woman’s story provides an example of the gritty, earnest social realism that was popular during the Victorian period. In the nineteenth century, many English writers felt an obligation to portray society's injustices. Jerome’s short vignette about the unfortunate young mother is inspired by these ‘social realist’ stories, which often portrayed the difficult situations faced by members of the lower classes.

However, the short scene can also be connected to the novel's larger themes. His ire in the anecdote is directed particularly towards the family, which abandons the woman because of her trouble. Considering how often Jerome finds humor in the way humans lie to themselves, this scene provides an interesting counterpoint. The woman's family, clearly believing themselves above such behavior, made themselves implicitly responsible for her death. It is arguable that Jerome wishes us to realize how certain pretensions can be inexorably harmful, even if others are merely sources of simple irony.