Cheaper By the Dozen Themes

Cheaper By the Dozen Themes

Value of Family

This novel revolves around the value of family. Anne, the narrator, describes the early years of her life in light of how her family shaped her experience. Although both successful working parents, Frank and Lillian prioritize their family's affairs above their careers. Being a mother of twelve, Lillian has put most of her career on hold to focus on raising her children. They both work to instill the value of family within each of their children by giving them a healthy, happy, nurturing home in which to thrive.


Anne and Ernestine are both teenagers. When they start at a new high school, they feel the pressure to fit in but don't really because they come from a large, conservative family. This leads to some daring acts of rebellion as both girls, particularly Anne, try to develop their independence and convince their parents to allow them to fit in better. For example, Anne, though expressly forbidden by her father, rolls her stockings down to her knees in order to impress a boy that she likes. She also bobs her hair, much to the astonishment of her entire family. Eventually, she and Ernestine are entrusted with more freedom. More importantly, however, Anne learns to respect her parents' choices because they are wise and want to provide for her future, not just allow her to enjoy herself in the moment and live a consequent lifetime of regrets.


The Gilbreths place a high value upon education. In fact, much of the events of the novel revolve around the kids' experiences while in school. They move to new schools and face many challenges in the transition. At home, as well, Frank and Lillian encourage their children to learn as much as possible. Frank films the removal of multiple of the children's tonsils so that they could watch the videos and learn about anatomy better. Each of the children plays a musical instrument and takes weekly lessons. Overall the way Frank and Lillian parent is by viewing every moment as a teaching experience. They are patient instructors.


As an efficiency expert, needless to say Frank Sr. rewards efficiency within his household. If his children ever want to impress their father, they know to try and find a more efficient way to do a routine task. Frank is dedicated to his field, even to the point of embarrassment. When the kids meet their new principle, Frank mortifies them by demonstrating for the principle with an imaginary bar of soap what is the most efficient way to take a bath. Whether in the home, at the office, or out in the world, Frank constantly seeks to do things faster or with less effort but with the same results. He's a problem solver.

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