Study Guide

You Can't Take It with You

by George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart

You Can't Take It with You Essay - Critical Essays (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)

Analysis

American stage comedies generally aim for laughter rather than enlightenment, and this is particularly true of the best of the Kaufman-Hart comedies of the 1930’s. Still, such plays as Once in a Lifetime (1930), You Can’t Take It with You, and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939) do contain some elements of social satire and commentary, although these elements are often muted by the presence of a romanic sentimentalism that insists on a happy ending in which all vestiges of conflict are reconciled. In the case of You Can’t Take It with You, Kaufman and Hart devised a plot especially dear to the hearts of American audiences: One essentially good-hearted, stubborn individual is pitted against the “system.” Grandpa Vanderhof emerges both as a splendid comic character in his own right and as an exemplar of purely American individualism, ingenuity, and plain common sense. By turning his back on the traditional pursuits of wealth, power, and social standing, Grandpa manages to flout—in his wise and gentle way—most of the social conventions that govern the day-to-day lives of men and women.

Comedy nearly always flirts with social anarchy, and most of the great comic characters—from William Shakespeare’s Falstaff to the Three Stooges—have generated laughter and delight by gleefully violating those very rules of everyday conduct by which the rest of the world is forced to live. In addition to providing riotous entertainment, the result...

(The entire section is 609 words.)