Idleness is “an inclination not to do work…”1 Synonyms include laziness, indolence, and sloth.2 In Mitchell Leisen’s Hands Across the Table (1935), Theodore Drew III (Fred MacMurray) is an idle man who has never worked to earn a living. An important theme in the film is that a woman will not marry a man who refuses to get a job.
One reason why Theodore doesn’t want to work is he is a man-child. When Regi Allen (Carole Lombard) first meets him, he is playing hopscotch in the hallway. Later, when she lets him stay in her apartment, he asks to be tucked into bed. Years earlier, he joined the navy, but his father pulled him out. Theodore is a man-child because his father never taught him to be responsible for his own financial needs.
Theodore’s refusal to work forces him to choose between marrying for money or marrying for love. Before he met Regi, he planned to marry Vivian Snowden (Astrid Allwyn) and live off of her wealth. However, when he falls in love with Regi, he wants to break off his engagement, and be with her, but she refuses.
There are two unstated reasons why Regi sends Theodore away. As a manicurist, she is a low-income earner, and doesn’t want to remain poor by marrying a man with limited job prospects. She tells him he’ll have to “scratch for a living.” Secondly, she may fear that she will have to support him financially.
In the end, Regi agrees to marry Theodore because she realizes how much she loves him, and he promises her that he will find work. The film suggests that a man must take financial responsibility for his own life if he wants to attract a wife. This was true in 1935 and is still true today.
According to a 2011 survey by ForbesWoman and YourTango, 75% of female respondents said they would never marry a man who was unemployed.3 Women today may not want a man to financially provide for them, but they are reluctant to marry a man they will have to provide for, especially if he is healthy and able to work.
While there are valid reasons for a man being unemployed including health issues, raising children, and the need to retrain for a career, if a healthy, able-bodied man refuses to work, he may ruin his chances of getting married. Women (on average) earn less money than men do,4 and hence are less likely to want to financially support a husband. Therefore, if an idle man wants a wife, he should start looking for a job.
- Merriam Webster, s.v. “Idleness,” accessed February 12, 2017, https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/idleness
- Megan Gibson, “Study: 75% of Women Wouldn’t Marry A Man Who Was Unemployed,” Time, June 23, 2011, http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/06/23/study-75-of-women-wouldnt-marry-a-man-who-was-unemployed/
- “Women’s earnings 83 percent of men’s, but vary by occupation,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 15, 2016, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/womens-earnings-83-percent-of-mens-but-vary-by-occupation.htm