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

by Jerome K. Jerome

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What is the conclusion of the novel Three Men in a Boat?

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The conclusion to this story is about as anticlimactic as the rest of the story.  That doesn’t mean the story isn’t good.  This story is hilarious because it is about three bumbling men taking a river trip on the Thames.  The introduction of the story is a straightforward character introduction.  Readers are introduced to the narrator and his two friends, George and Harris.  By the end of the first chapter, readers know that the narrator is a complete hypochondriac.  He isn’t alone in thinking that everything is wrong with him either.  George and Harris also believe that they are constantly ill because of being overworked.  

This duty done, we refilled our glasses, lit our pipes, and resumed the discussion upon our state of health. What it was that was actually the matter with us, we none of us could be sure of; but the unanimous opinion was that it—whatever it was—had been brought on by overwork.

"What we want is rest," said Harris.

"Rest and a complete change," said George. "The overstrain upon our brains has produced a general depression throughout the system. Change of scene, and absence of the necessity for thought, will restore the mental equilibrium."

The men decide that their complete change will be a two-week river trip on the Thames.  This is the point in the story when the plot switches from introduction to rising action.  It’s also when the story gets hilarious.  The three men (and the dog) are complete idiots.  They can’t do anything right, and one of them is always falling into something.  The rising actions of the story are essentially the men moving along the river and having mishap after mishap.  Anything that could go wrong on the trip does go wrong, and it winds up being much more difficult than anticipated.  

The trip doesn’t really do anything to alleviate the men’s overall depression.  In my opinion the climax of the story is when the men’s depression is at it worst.  That occurs after their two days in Oxford when a heavy rain begins to pour down onto the men in the boat.

I cannot honestly say that we had a merry evening. The rain poured down with quiet persistency. Everything in the boat was damp and clammy. Supper was not a success. Cold veal pie, when you don't feel hungry, is apt to cloy. I felt I wanted whitebait and a cutlet; Harris babbled of soles and white-sauce, and passed the remains of his pie to Montmorency, who declined it, and, apparently insulted by the offer, went and sat over at the other end of the boat by himself.

The rain continues for two days, and the three men cannot muster enough gumption to complete the final two days of their proposed river trip.  Their decision to give up and spend the rest of the trip at an inn is the climactic turning point of the story.  The following falling action occurs once the men are at the inn.  They enjoy a delicious supper there, and they tell the other guests about their travels.  They make it sound like their trip was great.  

Inside we were a still greater success. Our fine bronzed countenances and picturesque clothes were followed round the place with admiring gaze. We were the cynosure of every eye. It was a proud moment for us all.

The story’s conclusion is then the men deciding that their river trip was great and deciding to cut it short was the best decision yet.  

"Well," said Harris, reaching his hand out for his glass, "we have had a pleasant trip, and my hearty thanks for it to old Father Thames - but I think we did well to chuck it when we did. Here's to Three Men well out of a Boat!"

Even the dog gives a bark of agreement.  So while the three men and the dog believe that they are returning home as conquering heroes, the reader knows that particular conclusion only exists in minds of the narrator, Harris, and George.  

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The conclusion comes in the final chapter, Chapter XIX. Thus far, the storyline has followed the three men and the dog in their journey along the River Thames in England. It had been their intention to go as far upriver as they could, toward the source of the Thames. They aimed to experience “a fortnight’s enjoyment on the river,” which meant that they should travel for two weeks. They still have two more days to go when a rainstorm prods them to consider their options. They could stop and have dinner on the boat or in an inn, and then stay overnight in the boat in the rain; or they could abandon the trip, take a train back to London, and have a better dinner and even take in a show at the Alhambra Theatre. They decide on the second. The four leave behind the boat and everything on it, and head back to the city, where they spend a wonderful evening. Even Montmorency offers “a short bark of decided concurrence” with the outcome.

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