Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 608

Although originally written for adults, Cheaper by the Dozen promises to entertain young adult readers. This book, based on the authors’ childhood diaries, was translated into many languages and became a cinema box-office hit. Its charm and appeal lies in the authors’ ability to capture deftly the essence of what...

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Although originally written for adults, Cheaper by the Dozen promises to entertain young adult readers. This book, based on the authors’ childhood diaries, was translated into many languages and became a cinema box-office hit. Its charm and appeal lies in the authors’ ability to capture deftly the essence of what it was like to grow up in a large family. Even though few people might have been reared in circumstances as exceptional as those experienced by the Gilbreth children, there is much with which the young adult reader can identify. Brothers tease, sisters torment, children grouse about chores that they would rather not do, and all cringe when “Dad” proudly calls attention to his dozen offspring. The authors’ objectivity in telling the story keeps it moving at a page-turning pace.

The reader will find an account in which parents are praised for the philosophy of life that they imparted to their offspring to be a rarity. Reading about how these values were cleverly taught to the Gilbreths is both comic and inspiring. Rare, too, is the biography in which children good-naturedly present a seemingly unbiased view of family life—faults and merits alike. The biography’s format, that of a fast-paced novel, draws the reader into vicariously experiencing life in the Gilbreth household. The beauty of this book is that the authors show children as they really are. These brothers and sisters were no more angels—despite their regimented life—than any other children. They, too, were full of pranks and mischief.

The love, caring, and quality of life portrayed by the authors make this a par-ticularly valuable book because it supports the effects of united family life. While, at times, Gilbreth’s demand for strict discipline and order may seem unduly harsh, the authors leave no doubt in the reader’s mind that Gilbreth was a loving man and that his devotion to his wife and family was unwavering. He reveled in being the center of their attention and gave the children unexpected and unusual rewards for work well done. For example, when one child won a fence-painting contract for the low bid of forty-seven cents, her father also gave her a much-coveted pair of roller skates because she completed the onerous task dutifully.

The authors make it clear that Gilbreth wanted his children not only to behave and to be helpful but also to think for themselves, to assert themselves, and to state their causes clearly and effectively. He expected them to be successful at whatever they attempted. Nevertheless, he loved a good joke, especially one played on him by his children. The parodies that the children performed for their parents exemplify the family’s good-natured humor.

Far from being a heartlessly regimented way to rear a family, this structured life produced children who knew that their parents loved them unconditionally and gave them a sense of responsibility and self-worth at an early age. To Gilbreth, life meant living and learning because everything was interesting and exciting. His enthusiasm created a profound and positive impact on his children that served them well in their own lives.

The authors candidly describe each parent’s motivating philosophy. Gilbreth’s own exuberance for living and learning and using every moment to its fullest provided a natural thrust for educating his children. Only toward the end of the book, however, is the reader privy to the information that he had a heart condition and realized that his wife would need all the support that she could get to manage such a large family. He left them all a legacy of independence combined with cooperation, thereby fulfilling his goals before dying.

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Critical Context