You Can't Take It with You Analysis

The Play (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

You Can’t Take It with You opens with Penny Vanderhof Sycamore typing at a play in the living room of a house near Columbia University. She is working on her eleventh play in the eight years since a typewriter arrived at the house, quite by accident; in this household, the delivery of a typewriter is enough to begin a literary career. Essie Carmichael enters from making candy in the kitchen, and the nonstop action begins. While Essie practices dancing, Penny tries to extricate her heroine from the monastery in which she has spent the last six years. At times, she wonders aloud whether to return to sculpture. Mr. Sycamore and Mr. De Pinna arrive from making fireworks in the basement; they plan a grand display including balloons. Ed Carmichael begins playing the xylophone. When Donald arrives to visit Rheba, he brings flies for Grandpa’s snakes. Ed plans to print some sayings from Trotsky to package with Essie’s next batch of candy.

Grandpa Vanderhof, still spry at age seventy-five, has just attended a graduation at Columbia University. When Alice arrives home, she seems very different from the other inhabitants. While Alice talks about her boyfriend and boss, a government man makes inquiries about Grandpa’s back taxes. Grandpa has not been paying taxes; indeed, he has been doing whatever pleases him since he walked away from his job thirty-five years ago. Grandpa buried an unnamed milkman as a Vanderhof when he died eight years before the time of the play. Now when mail comes for Grandpa, no one thinks to give it to him. Having seen none of the government’s letters, he does not know that the government wants back taxes. Tony visits Alice to meet the family. Kolenkhov begins a dance lesson with Essie. At any slight lull in the action, a new set of fireworks booms out of the basement. The absurdities continue in the second scene. Alice explains to Tony that her family is not normal; various members of the household readily demonstrate that fact. Nevertheless, Tony plans to marry Alice.

In act 2, Grandpa brings a drunken actor home to help Penny with her play. Alice announces that she has invited the Kirbys to dinner. As the family makes grand plans for the dinner, the Kirbys arrive a night early. Grandpa explains something of his philosophy to Mr. Kirby....

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You Can't Take It with You Form and Content (Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

You Can’t Take It with You, winner of the 1938 Pulitzer Prize, is a classic American stage comedy that deftly blends elements of farce, slapstick, whimsical humor, social commentary, and romance, together with a generous dash of good-natured optimism about the human condition. First staged in December, 1936, at a time when the United States was only beginning to recover from the bleakest days of the Great Depression, You Can’t Take It with You was the third play written by the team of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the most successful collaborators in the history of the American theater.

The play is set in New York City, in the Sycamore household, a zany little kingdom presided over by Grandpa Vanderhof, who thirty-five years before had decided that the world of business could get along quite nicely without him and has “been a happy man ever since.” Grandpa’s iconoclastic attitudes toward work, money, and happiness have obviously infected the entire household: As the stage directions announce, “This is a house where you do as you like, and no questions asked.” In the best tradition of “screwball” comedy, the family is made up almost completely of lovable eccentrics. Mrs. Sycamore, for example, has passed most of her time for eight years writing plays (with titles such as “Sex Takes a Holiday”), not from any deep artistic motives but only because a typewriter was delivered to the house one day by mistake. Mr....

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You Can't Take It with You Historical Context

In the mid-1930s when Kaufman and Hart wrote You Can't Take It with You, Americans were suffering through one of the worst economic...

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You Can't Take It with You Dramatic Devices (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

You Can’t Take It with You presents the audience with a variety of action. Snakes, a typewriter, a saxophone, a xylophone, and dancing all abound. Offstage are the basement with its fireworks manufacture and the kitchen with its candy making and meal preparation. Any lull in the onstage action is sure to start fireworks from the basement. The dialogue is typical of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Grandpa argues that he should not pay the income tax by asking what the government would do with the money. He continues, “What do I get for my money? If I go into Macy’s and buy something, there it is—I see it. What’s the Government give me?” After listening to the agent’s list of things that government supplies, Grandpa decides that he might pay seventy-five dollars. The dialogue leaps from subject to subject, its logic apparent only to the characters themselves. As Essie asks Ed to remember the music he just played on his xylophone, Penny interjects, “Ed, dear. Why don’t you and Essie have a baby?” Ed and Essie answer, but Penny is already back working with her manuscripts.

A rickety card table used for typing, cages for snakes, a xylophone, and the dining table fill the set; the family really lives in this room. Entrances are timed for comedic effect. Immediately after Alice asks that a nice dinner be planned for Tony’s parents on the next evening, the Kirbys show up in full evening dress. As the Kirbys start to leave,...

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You Can't Take It with You Literary Style

You Can't Take It with You has three well-balanced acts. Act I introduces the members of the eccentric Vanderhof-Sycamore family and...

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You Can't Take It with You Bibliography (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Brown, John Mason. “The Sensible Insanities of You Can’t Take It with You.” In Two on the Aisle: Ten Years of the American Theatre in Performance. New York: W. W. Norton, 1938.

Goldstein, Malcolm. George S. Kaufman: His Life, His Theater. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Gould, Jean. “Some Clever Collaborators: George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.” In Modern American Playwrights. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1966.

Harriman, Margaret Case. “Hi-yo Platinum! Moss Hart.” In Take Them Up Tenderly: A Collection...

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You Can't Take It with You Compare and Contrast

1930s: During the Great Depression unemployment reaches a high of 20% in 1935. In 1938, unemployment is at 19.1%, which...

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You Can't Take It with You Topics for Further Study

Look up a classic discussion of comedy—such as Aristotle's Poetics, Charles Baudelaire's On the Essence...

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You Can't Take It with You Media Adaptations

Frank Capra produced and directed an Academy Award-winning film version of You Can't Take It with You. The film stars James Stewart...

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You Can't Take It with You What Do I Read Next?

Harvey, Mary Coyle Chase's 1944 comedy. This play, like You Can't Take It with You, won a Pulitzer Prize,...

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You Can't Take It with You Bibliography and Further Reading

Further Reading
Atkinson, Brooks. "The Giddy Twenties" in his Broadway, MacMillan (New York), 1970, pp...

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You Can't Take It with You Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Brown, John Mason. “The Sensible Insanities of You Can’t Take It with You.” In Two on the Aisle: Ten Years of the American Theatre in Performance. New York: W. W. Norton, 1938.

Goldstein, Malcolm. George S. Kaufman: His Life, His Theater. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Gould, Jean. “Some Clever Collaborators: George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.” In Modern American Playwrights. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1966.

Harriman, Margaret Case. “Hi-yo Platinum! Moss Hart.” In Take Them Up Tenderly: A Collection...

(The entire section is 167 words.)