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Last Reviewed on March 11, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2075

Cheaper by the Dozen is a semi-autobiographical novel by Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. that was published in 1949. The tale is based on the daily lives and childhood adventures of the authors, who grew up in a household with twelve children. The story takes place in the early 20th century.

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The Gilbreths are a tight-knit Irish family. They live in Montclair, New Jersey, in a "Taj Mahal of a house with fourteen rooms a two-story barn out back, a greenhouse, chicken yard, grape arbors rose bushes, and a couple of dozen fruit trees." They dash about town in a large Pierce Arrow car, the entire family crammed inside with their hearts in their mouths, as their father is a fast and reckless driver.

Frank and Lillian, the childrens' parents, are professional time management and efficiency experts, and they use their knowledge and skills to run the household with brisk efficiency in order to avoid total bedlam. Charts are posted in various rooms to ensure the children complete and mark off their personal chores each day, and occasional chores, such as digging up tree trunks or burning leaves, are put up for bid and awarded to the lowest bidder among the children.

As happens in most families, the oldest children are put in charge of the youngest. The eldest Gilbreth children are Anne, Ernestine, and Martha, and the youngest children are Jane, Dan, Jack and Bob. The middle children, Frank, Bill, Lill, and Fred, generally fend for themselves and each other.

While Frank acts as the self-assumed leader of the family, the children recognize that their mother Lillian, who also works professionally as a psychologist, is the driving force behind the family unit.

Mother never threatened, never shouted or became excited, never spanked a single one of her children—or anyone else's, either.

Frank tends to be more emotional, energetic, and impulsive; Lillian is quieter, more practical, and more organized in her thinking. She is the one who always runs the family role calls—a daily event that helps them all make sure everyone is on board before they progress from one place to another. In one racy incident, the family accidentally leaves one of the younger boys behind in a restaurant. When they realize the mistake and drive back to get him, they find that the restaurant is now a garishly lit speakeasy. Frank Jr. is found being treated to ice cream by the kind kitchen staff, and disaster is once again averted for the Gilbreths.

Frank grew up in various cities in New England, his widowed mother finally settling on Boston, where she hoped her son would go to MIT. Frank, however, decides to save the family resources and go straight into trade, applying his efficient mind to bricklaying and construction. He rises quickly in the field and and by the time he is 27, he is a motion study expert for factories and has offices in multiple cities. Lillian grew up in Oakland, California, and studied psychology at U.C. Berkeley.

When they are courting in Boston, Lillian is shy, quiet, and reserved, and Frank is extroverted, breezy, and easy-going. They meet on a chaperoned tour, and fall in love immediately. Frank takes her driving around Boston in his new car, and by the time the drive is done, they have both privately decided they will get married. When she heads back to Oakland, he follows, charms her family, and seals the deal. When he arrives, he heads into their garden and starts laying bricks, and showing her folks how to do it. They adore Frank.

Thus the theory of their family and their actual family were born. Later, after the family moves to their larger home in Montclair, Frank institutes a weekly Family Council meeting, officiated by him and run on vague parliamentary rules, though often jury-rigged (by the parents) and sometimes verging on the hysterical. They create...

(The entire section contains 2075 words.)

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