Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 573
J., the narrator and alter ego of the author. He is single and a resident of London. In this wry tale of a holiday on the River Thames, J., of no stated occupation, is representative of the English middle classes. J., who is something of a hypochondriac, commiserates with two friends, George and Harris, about their need for a restful holiday. They decide to embark on a two-week boating trip up the Thames from London to Oxford and back again. Because the adventure is told by J., it is his view of events that prevails, including numerous and amusing digressions from the past such as the time he carried a ripe cheese from Liverpool to London on a crowded railway. Always confident of his own abilities and sure of the rightness of his own motives, J. describes at length the foibles of his companions, with himself the well-meaning, generous, and wise counselor, always above the fray—unless he became a part of it. J. obviously is no better—and no worse—in his abilities and actions than George or Harris.
George, who also is single. He works—or, according to J., sleeps—in a bank in the City of London from ten to four o’clock on weekdays; on Saturdays, he is awakened and expelled at two. It is he who proposes the boating trip. The heavyset and always thirsty George knows every drinking spot in and around London and is thus considered to be a valuable resource for the holiday. Because he has to work part of the day on Saturday, he is unable to join the group until sometime after J. and Harris set out. When he arrives, it is in an unsuitably loud blazer, and he is carrying a banjo that he cannot play.
William Samuel Harris
William Samuel Harris, a man who, according to J., lacks any romance and poetry in his soul. Harris and George are broadly similar types. Like George, Harris organizes his life around eating and drinking. He also has considerable confidence in his musical aptitude, especially singing comic songs, but he can never remember the words. Like George with his banjo, Harris’ talent is greatly inferior to his ambition. On one occasion, Harris remains in the boat while George and J. visit a town. When they return, Harris can hardly be roused because of his drunkenness, and all he can talk about is being attacked by differing numbers of swans. At the end of the adventure, heavy rains force them to abandon the wet boat for a dry train back to London, where they will find a theater and a good restaurant. Harris proposes the final toast: “Here’s to Three Men well out of a Boat!”
Montmorency, a small fox terrier, the fourth member of the crew. His ambitions in life are to be sworn at by J. and his friends, to be in the way on every occasion possible, and to get into fights with every other dog in whatever neighborhood he finds himself. According to J., the only time Montmorency was stopped in his tracks was when he rushed up to a cat who forced him to retreat with his tail between his legs. Montmorency, as revealed by J., is the voice of realism on the boat. His sardonic attitude is in humorous contrast to the blustering naïveté of the human animals, J., George, and Harris.
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