In Three Men in a Boat, what do we learn about the three friends from the way they pack things for their trip?
The three friends are shown to be rather disorganised in the way that they pack for their trip.
Jerome forgets to put in various items, which have to be pointed out to him by the others. Then he gets worried that he’s forgotten to pack his toothbrush. He confesses his toothbrush ‘is a thing that haunts me when I go travelling and makes my life a misery’ (chapter 4). He is always looking for it and packing and unpacking it when he’s preparing for a journey. On this occasion, he does find it, but he has to unpack everything again to do so.
Jerome, then, comes across as rather absent-minded and forgetful in his packing. George and Harris are even worse. They pack the hamper after Jerome has finished packing the other things, and they make a mess while doing so. They manage to sprinkle salt over everything, butter gets smeared everywhere, tomatoes get squashed, and so on. To make matters worse, Montmorency, Jerome’s very badly-behaved terrier, gets involved. George and Harris reveal themselves to be haphazard, indeed quite chaotic in their packing.
As so often in this book, the packing scenes are used to great comic effect. We get a picture of the three men as blundering, albeit well-intentioned types, always getting in each other’s way and unable to complete any task in an orderly fashion.
The narrator tells George and Harris that he will pack (as he feels that he knows more), by which he means that he will supervise the packing, but George and Harris immediately sit down to watch the narrator pack. The narrator enjoys bossing other people around, which he thinks is an outgrowth of his "energetic nature." Harris waits until the narrator has strapped the bag to tell him he forgot to pack the boots, and George laughs at the narrator in response. The narrator, obviously a bit neurotic, then wonders if he has packed his toothbrush--a question that he says "haunts me." He rips apart the bag until he finds his toothbrush in a boot and then has to repack the entire bag.
George and Harris then pack the hampers. They are clearly disorganized and clumsy, and they begin by breaking a cup. Harris packs the strawberry jam on top of a tomato and crushes it while George walks on the butter. As the narrator watches them, they become increasingly irritable and nervous. They place pies at the bottom of the bag and crush them, and they sit on the butter and then cannot find it. They are illogical and waste a great deal of time and food with their chaotic approach to packing.