Study Guide

You Can't Take It with You

by George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart

You Can't Take It with You Themes

Themes

You Can't Take It with You contrasts the eccentric family of Grandpa Martin Vanderhof with the conservative Kirby family. Vanderhof's granddaughter Alice becomes engaged to her boss's son Tony Kirby. Although a dinner party meant to bring the two families together ends with an explosion and a night in jail, by the play's end both Tony and his father have come to appreciate Grandpa's carefree philosophy. All obstacles to the young couple's happiness are eliminated.

American Dream
The two families in You Can't Take It with You each represent different definitions (perceptions) of the American Dream. Mr. Kirby has attained financial success and a position of social and economic power. The play, however, asks its viewers to evaluate whether Americans should aspire to be like Mr. Kirby. His achievement is contrasted with Grandpa Vanderhof's version of the American Dream, earning just enough money so that one can survive and do exactly what one wishes. Mr. Kirby may initially think Grandpa's ideas are "un-American," but the Vanderhof's infectious happiness and love for one another encourages the audience to revise their definition of the American Dream to include attainment of both material success and personal fulfillment.

Success and Failure
Throughout the play, the Vanderhof-Sycamore way of life calls into question conventional definitions of success and failure. Although Essie and Penny might be called "failures" because they lack talent in dancing and painting/playwriting respectively, the play depicts them as successful because each clearly finds joy in what she does. Tony Kirby initially thinks that in order...

(The entire section is 691 words.)