Three Men in a Boat

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Themes
Gender Roles
Wilder uses the different expectations that society has for males and females to twist the comic situation of The Matchmaker into a tighter knot than the events would otherwise permit. The first and most obvious example of this is the way in which Horace Vandergelder attempts to control his niece's life, dictating whom she may or may not marry, and the way in which Ermengarde accepts his authority. At the same time that he is trying to control Ermengarde's love life, Vandergelder is also planning on marrying someone—he is not very concerned about whom—in order to get an efficient housekeeper. Keeping house is a task for women, he explains, but the women who do it for hire do not do it well. "In order to run a house well," he tells the audience, "a woman must have the feeling she owns it. Marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper think she's a householder." Throughout the play, Vandergelder is presented as an example of prejudice and ignorance, so blind to reality that he cannot see how his clerks think of him or how Dolly Levi is manipulating him into marriage. His view of gender roles is therefore not necessarily one that audiences are expected to accept. A more realistic view of gender roles is the one held by Irene Molloy. She owns her own business, a hat shop in New York, and so has financial independence. Still, she wants to get out of the hat business because of the stereotype that "all millineresses are suspected of being wicked women." She is not able to go to public events because people will think that her behavior is improper for a lady. This knowledge of unwritten social conventions and of how people would punish her if she broke them is more telling of gender roles in this society than Vandergelder's skewed notions. Even so, the play probably gives its female characters more freedom than they would actually have enjoyed in the 1880s, reflecting more about the time when it was written than the time when it is set. Money

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