Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
You Can’t Take It with You is a situational farce that reflects its time. It presents a reaction to the struggles that filled the minds of Americans during the Great Depression. The title indicates one theme of the play: Accumulation of wealth is useless when it goes beyond immediate happiness. Whatever one accumulates cannot be taken beyond the grave. If gaining wealth (or achieving other success) is done for others, then it does not bring happiness. Rather, the good life consists in doing what one wants to do instead of what is considered normal or reasonable. After this premise is accepted, the actions become logical extensions of the characters.
The skimpy plot revolves around the love relationship between Alice and Tony, but the household revolves around Grandpa. Grandpa is the center of the thematic development of acting to give oneself happiness. Grandpa and his followers seek personal fulfillment, even when their desires lead to activity that most consider meaningless. Grandpa himself collects snakes and attends commencement exercises. Thirty-five years before the time of the play, he had decided to leave his job on the spur of the moment. He rejects the joyless pursuit of money and power. Penny writes plays and attempts to sculpt Mr. De Pinna as a Greek discus thrower. Essie dances and makes candy; at least the candy making shows some profit. Ed prints things that sound good and plays the xylophone. Paul Sycamore makes fireworks and...
(The entire section is 504 words.)
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