Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

by Jerome K. Jerome

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How are Harris and Uncle Podger similar?

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The narrator says that Harris is similar to Uncle Podger because Harris likes to put the burden of doing work on other people. The narrator says, "You never saw such a commotion up and down a house, in all your life, as when my Uncle Podger undertook to do a job." If Aunt Podger asks Uncle Podger to hang a picture, Uncle Podger sends a girl out for nails and a boy after her to tell what size nails to buy. He then orders other members of the household to bring him a hammer, step stool, light, and so on, and he orders another person to hold the light for him. He then proceeds to try to hang the picture but cuts himself in the process and makes everyone look for his handkerchief. After multiple travails during which he injures himself and the wall over a long period of time, he hangs the picture in a crooked way. In short, he makes his work the burden of other people and makes a simple task into an exhausting ordeal. Harris similarly tries to make other people do the work when the three men are trying to come up with a packing list until the narrator forces Harris to get the paper and pencil with which to write the list. 

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The narrator makes this comparison in Chapter III of Three Men in a Boat. Harris seems to go overboard (so to speak) on wanting to list absolutely everything that must be taken along on the upcoming boat trip. This approach reminds the narrator of his own Uncle Podger:

That’s Harris all over – so ready to take the burden of everything himself, and put it on the backs of other people.

The narrator then relates a lengthy story about his Uncle Podger, who takes forever and goes through many tools and strategies to simply hang a picture on the wall. He makes the simplest acts more complex than they need to be. He’s stubborn enough to think that he knows quite well how to do many things. The reality is that he doesn’t know how to do these things at all. He does such a terrible job that eventually someone else must intervene in order for the task to get finished.

Later in Chapter XI, when Harris tries to make scrambled eggs, the outcome mirrors Uncle Podger’s difficulties in hanging the picture. Whatever can go wrong, does. And no one ends up with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

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