Study Guide

You Can't Take It With You Themes

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Hollywood is generally into people jumping on their dream dragons and flying off to happy-ever-afters with hope explosions and all best laid plans dancing off into a dazzling future.

    And that's pretty much where You Can't Take It With You is coming from. Follow your bliss through two hours or so and you'll bump smack dab into a happy ending. Unless your dreams involve banking. In which case, you're boring, and should take up the harmonica instead.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. Does Alice have any dreams, hopes, or plans for herself, beyond marrying Tony? Does that make her a more or less interesting character?
    2. How are Mr. Kirby's dreams different from Grandpa's?
    3. In You Can't Take It With You, does it matter if the characters dreams come true? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    The characters in the film are happy when they don't have any big dreams.

    The characters in the film are happy when they pursue all their dreams.

  • Family

    In You Can't Take It With You, family is a matter of choice—and the more choices the better. Many of the people who live in Grandpa's house are blood relations, like his daughter Mrs. Sycamore, and his granddaughters.

    But other folks just seem to have been passing through, like Poppins (who Grandpa collects at a real estate office) and Kolenkhov, Essie's dance instructor, who comes for dinner every night. Part of the reason the house is so sprawling and chaotic is because it's home to whoever wants to be there. If you want to be a lily, you're welcome.

    Questions About Family

    1. Are Grandpa's neighbors part of his family? Explain your answer.
    2. Does Mr. Kirby care about family? Explain your answer.
    3. Is Alice right to insist that Mr. and Mrs. Kirby have to approve of her marriage to Tony? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Mr. and Mrs. Kirby care too much about their son.

    Mr. and Mrs. Kirby don't care enough about their son.

  • Society and Class

    Class in You Can't Take It With You is a little tricky. The Kirby's are obviously very upper class and snooty. But what about the Sycamores? They're figured as common folks, but they're not poor. They have a big house, servants, and enough income to live as they like without anyone having to work very hard. That makes them pretty well off, especially by the standards of the Depression.

    The truth is, the difference between the Kirbys and the Sycamores isn't exactly class so much as disposition or culture. The Kirbys are well-off businesspeople; the Sycamores are well-off Bohemians — or hippies, if you prefer. It's not so much rich vs. poor as squares vs. artists. The artists, Capra the artist says, have more fun.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Does the film hate bankers? Explain your answer.
    2. Is Grandpa rich? Explain your answer.
    3. Is the Judge in the film on the side of the wealthy or of the common people? What does this say about the film's vision of justice in America?

    Chew on This

    The film shows that having lots of money makes you bitter and grasping.

    The film shows that having lots of money allows you to be carefree and pursue your dreams.

  • Wealth

    You Can't Take It With You is all about how you can't take it with you—or, in other words, about how wealth doesn't matter and money won't make you happy. Though, it's also true that wealth is pretty important; the fact that Grandpa owns his own house means that Kirby is stymied in his efforts to take over the entire block.

    You Can't Take It With You might be read, not as saying that money doesn't matter at all, but as suggesting that you should spend what you've got on those who matter—friends, family, neighbors—rather than hoarding it for a future in which it will be worthless.

    Questions About Wealth

    1. Why is it important that the neighbors pay Grandpa's fine, rather than that Mr. Kirby does?
    2. How does pursuing wealth seem to make Mr. Kirby less happy?
    3. Does the film approve of working for money? What kind of work does it approve of?

    Chew on This

    Mr. Kirby is a bad person because he pursues money.

    Mr. Kirby pursues money because he is a bad person.