In Three Men in a Boat by Jerome, the narrator has condemned the "wretched small boats." How did he describe his boats earlier in connection with the steam launch? What does this tell you about the narrator?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator, J., refers to the “wretched small boats” in Chapter XVI:

At Reading lock we came up with a steam launch, belonging to some friends of mine, and they towed us up to within about a mile of Streatley. It is very delightful being towed up by a launch....

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The narrator, J., refers to the “wretched small boats” in Chapter XVI:

At Reading lock we came up with a steam launch, belonging to some friends of mine, and they towed us up to within about a mile of Streatley. It is very delightful being towed up by a launch. I prefer it myself to rowing. The run would have been more delightful still, if it had not been for a lot of wretched small boats that were continually getting in the way of our launch, and, to avoid running down which, we had to be continually easing and stopping. It is really most annoying, the manner in which these rowing boats get in the way of one’s launch up the river; something ought to be done to stop it.

A “steam launch” is a basic kind of motor boat, powered by steam or electricity. J. and his friends are using a row boat that also has a tow line. It can be pulled by someone walking on shore, or it can be tied to another boat, as they have done here. So it wasn’t too long ago – minutes, perhaps – that the three men had been in one of those very “wretched small boats” that the steam launchers were now complaining about. In fact, they are still sitting in one; they’re just being towed by a faster boat. J. is using irony for effect with this passage. He’s also testing the readers to see if they have been paying attention. Back in Chapter XIII, he writes about their usual experiences in the row boat versus steam launch battle:

We had a good deal of trouble with steam launches that morning. It was just before the Henley week, and they were going up in large numbers; some by themselves, some towing houseboats. I do hate steam launches. I suppose every rowing man does. I never see a steam launch but I feel I should like to lure it to a lonely part of the river, and there, in the silence and the solitude, strangle it.

It’s a matter of perspective. If you’re in a row boat, moving by your own paddle power, you can resent the motor boats that cruise past you and send waves in your direction. If you’re being towed by one of these faster boats, you can resent the slower ones that seem to always get in your way. J. is being sarcastic and playful here, seemingly showing us on the surface that his attitude can be swayed by whatever circumstances he finds himself in. But he’s also smart enough to mock society in general at the same time, since the larger population tends to change sides just this quickly. He’s merely mimicking what he witnesses on a regular basis in real life. This is a good quality of humorous writing.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team