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

by Jerome K. Jerome
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What are the similarities between Harris and J.'s Uncle Podger?

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Like J's Uncle Podger, Harris is a brash man who has an over-inflated sense of his own importance. He tends to assume a stance of pompous confidence when faced with challenges. Both Uncle Podger and Harris presume that their wisdom, analytical abilities, and powers of observation are equal to the...

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Like J's Uncle Podger, Harris is a brash man who has an over-inflated sense of his own importance. He tends to assume a stance of pompous confidence when faced with challenges. Both Uncle Podger and Harris presume that their wisdom, analytical abilities, and powers of observation are equal to the difficulties before them. However, they are far less talented than they imagine themselves to be. Both men invariably end up needing the assistance of others.

In the story, Uncle Podger tries to hang up a picture frame for Aunt Podger. He assures her that she won't have to worry: after all, he's going to do it. Before long, however, Uncle Podger wrecks chaos on the whole household due to his short temper and even shorter attention span. He misplaces his hammer and his coat and makes the whole household responsible for locating them. His ineptness is further illustrated when he smashes his thumb with the hammer while driving a nail into the wall. Meanwhile, the women of the household complain about his poor attitude.

For his part, Uncle Podger steadfastly ignores their complaints. He pats himself on the back for a job well done and neglects to mention that he had assistance in completing the task. Harris behaves similarly in the Hampton Court maze fiasco. He portrays himself as the capable savior of those who are lost. Yet, he fails to lead the group out of the maze. Over and over again, Harris leads everyone in a circle. No one is able to get out until one of the old keepers comes to the group's assistance.

Later in the story, Harris tries to fix scrambled eggs for his friends. He proclaims his culinary prowess and assures everyone that he is a master at making the dish.

People who had once tasted his scrambled eggs, so we gathered from his conversation, never cared for any other food afterwards, but pined away and died when they could not get them.

However, Harris proves so inept at cooking up scrambled eggs that the party has to go without them for their breakfast. Due to his clumsiness and poor cooking skills, Harris is only able to produce a teaspoonful of very burnt eggs (he had originally cracked six eggs into the frying pan). So, we can see the similarities between Harris and Uncle Podger. Both are brash and prone to over-inflate their abilities. Neither is willing to admit that their individual rhetoric often fails to match reality.

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When the narrator J. tells us the story of his Uncle Podger in Chapter III, he says that his friend Harris always reminds him of his relative, because he is “so ready to take the burden of everything himself, and put it on the backs of other people.” But we hardly know Harris at this point in the book. So we must have faith that J. can see a similarity between the two men. Later, we have at least two chances to make the comparison ourselves. Go to Chapter VI and read Harris’s own account of how he and his country cousin got lost in the Hampton Court maze. And go to Chapter XI and read about Harris’s attempt to cook scrambled eggs for his friends, on the second day out. In both instances, Harris thinks he knows what he’s doing. He thinks he’s got the job under control. But he has to bring in and involve other people in his process. And in the end, he fails at the task.

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