The Man Who Came to Dinner

By George S. Kaufman


Welcome to a dive into the classic comedic gem, “The Man Who Came to Dinner” 🎭✨, penned by the illustrious playwright George S. Kaufman, along with Moss Hart. This play, first hitting the stage in 1939, nestles itself firmly in the heart of American theatre’s golden age, bringing laughter and insight to its audience with a sharp wit and a dash of the absurd.

George S. Kaufman, renowned for his sharp wit and masterful collaboration with various playwrights, has left an indelible mark on American theater. “The Man Who Came to Dinner” is a shining example of his comedic genius and ability to craft characters and situations that resonate with audiences even today.

Set in the small town of Mesalia, Ohio, during the Christmas season, this play falls squarely into the genre of comedy, with its roots tangled in the farcical and the absurd. The story revolves around Sheridan Whiteside, a celebrity radio personality who, after slipping on ice and injuring himself outside the home of the well-to-do Stanley family, becomes an unexpected, and increasingly unwelcome, houseguest.

The play is a riotous exploration of fame, friendship, and the peculiar charm of the unexpected, making it a beloved staple on both the amateur and professional stage. Through its lively characters and the chaotic situations they find themselves in, “The Man Who Came to Dinner” offers not just laughs but a poignant look at the human condition. So, let’s get comfy and delve into the delightful chaos that ensues when Mr. Whiteside comes to dinner and decides he’s not leaving anytime soon! 🎉📚

Plot Summary

“The Man Who Came to Dinner” is a whirlwind of comedic events that begins with — Sheridan Whiteside, a famously cantankerous radio personality, visits the small town of Mesalia, Ohio, to dine with the affluent Stanley family. Unfortunately, he slips on their doorstep and injures his hip, leading to — Whiteside being confined to the Stanley home for several weeks during his recovery, much to the family’s dismay.

As Whiteside takes over the Stanley household with his whims, demands, and eccentric guests, the play unfolds through a series of hilarious misadventures. The exposition reveals — Whiteside’s character and his influence over his surroundings, setting the stage for the ensuing chaos.

The rising action escalates as — Whiteside receives a stream of bizarre gifts, including penguins from Admiral Byrd and an octopus from Harpo Marx, while his secretary, Maggie Cutler, falls in love with local newspaperman Bert Jefferson. Whiteside, fearing he’ll lose Maggie’s assistance, schemes to break up the budding romance by — inviting glamorous actress Lorraine Sheldon to charm Bert away from Maggie.

The climax hits when — Lorraine plans to whisk Bert away to Hollywood, and Whiteside’s elaborate plans seem to be succeeding. However, the tables turn as — Whiteside’s various attempts to meddle in the lives of his hosts and guests begin to unravel, leading to the falling action.

In a desperate move to keep Maggie by his side, Whiteside confesses his manipulations. But, in a heartwarming twist of fate — Maggie decides to stay with Bert, and Lorraine is tricked by Whiteside’s friend, Banjo, into leaving town, mistakingly kidnapping an archaeologist instead of her romantic target.

The resolution comes with — Whiteside being declared fit to leave the Stanley home. Despite the upheaval he’s caused, the Stanleys and Whiteside share a moment of mutual appreciation and understanding. Whiteside exits, only to — slip on the doorstep once again, implying that the cycle of chaos might just begin anew.

This summary encapsulates the riotous journey of “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” showcasing its blend of farcical situations, witty banter, and the ultimate realization of the characters’ affection for one another despite the chaos.

Character Analysis

Sheridan Whiteside — The central figure of the play, Whiteside is a celebrity radio personality known for his acerbic wit and domineering personality. Despite his initial portrayal as selfish and manipulative, his actions reveal a complex character capable of deep loyalty and affection, particularly towards his secretary, Maggie. His character development is subtle, moving from an almost villainous figure to a somewhat more sympathetic character by the play’s end.

Maggie Cutler — Whiteside’s efficient and loyal secretary, Maggie is the voice of reason amidst the chaos. Her falling in love with Bert Jefferson showcases her desire for a life beyond managing Whiteside’s whims. Maggie’s character undergoes significant development as she navigates her loyalty to Whiteside against her own desires for personal happiness.

Bert Jefferson — A local newspaperman and aspiring playwright, Bert is the epitome of small-town charm and sincerity. His romance with Maggie introduces a conflict that drives much of the plot, testing the characters’ relationships and priorities.

Lorraine Sheldon — A glamorous, manipulative actress and an old flame of Whiteside’s. Lorraine’s arrival escalates the central conflict as she attempts to lure Bert away from Maggie. Her character represents the superficial and selfish aspects of show business, in contrast to Maggie’s sincerity and Bert’s genuineness.

Banjo — A boisterous Hollywood comedian and friend to Whiteside, Banjo’s late appearance introduces a new dynamic, helping to resolve the central conflict. His character adds a layer of humor and unpredictability, underscoring the themes of friendship and loyalty.

Here’s a summary of the character analysis in table format:

Sheridan WhitesideAcerbic, domineering, complexSeeks control, fears losing MaggieBecomes somewhat more sympathetic
Maggie CutlerLoyal, reasonable, desiring morePersonal happiness, love for BertChooses personal happiness over loyalty
Bert JeffersonCharming, sincere, aspiringSuccess in love and careerRemains steadfast in his values
Lorraine SheldonGlamorous, manipulative, superficialPersonal gain, jealousyRemains largely unchanged, but thwarted
BanjoBoisterous, humorous, unpredictableLoyalty to Whiteside, aiding friendsProvides comedic relief and resolution

This analysis reveals the depth and dynamism of Kaufman’s characters, highlighting their complexities and contributions to the play’s enduring humor and appeal.

Themes and Symbols


Confinement and Freedom — The physical confinement of Sheridan Whiteside to the Stanley home symbolizes the emotional and psychological constraints each character faces. As Whiteside’s presence disrupts the household’s routine, each character confronts their own desires for freedom and self-expression, leading to a broader examination of the human condition and the quest for personal autonomy within societal bounds.

The Nature of Celebrity — Through Whiteside’s character, the play scrutinizes the cult of celebrity and its impact on personal relationships and social interactions. His manipulation and control over those around him reflect the broader societal fascination with and submission to celebrity influence, questioning the value and authenticity of fame.

Friendship and Loyalty — The complex relationships among the characters highlight the themes of friendship and loyalty. Despite the chaos and manipulation, the underlying affection and loyalty between Whiteside, Maggie, and their circle of friends drive the narrative forward, suggesting that true friendship transcends situational adversities.


The Penguins — Gifted to Whiteside during his convalescence, the penguins symbolize the absurdity and unpredictability of life. Their presence in the Stanley home serves as a constant reminder of Whiteside’s invasive influence and the bizarre turn of events his arrival prompts.

The Wheelchair — Whiteside’s wheelchair is a potent symbol of both his physical confinement and his manipulative control over the Stanley household. It represents the limitations imposed on the characters by circumstances and their own choices, as well as the power dynamics at play within the home.

The Manuscript — Bert Jefferson’s play manuscript, coveted by Lorraine Sheldon, symbolizes the characters’ aspirations and the lengths to which they will go to achieve their desires. It also represents the threat of external forces to personal dreams and the integrity of creative work.

Through these themes and symbols, “The Man Who Came to Dinner” offers a rich tapestry of commentary on human nature, the allure and peril of fame, and the enduring value of genuine connections amidst the chaos of life.

Style and Tone

“The Man Who Came to Dinner” by George S. Kaufman showcases a distinctive writing style and tone that contribute significantly to the play’s enduring appeal and comedic impact.

Writing Style

  • Dialog-driven Narrative: The play relies heavily on fast-paced, witty dialogue to move the story forward and develop its characters. Kaufman’s skill in crafting memorable lines that capture the personalities of his characters is a hallmark of his writing style.
  • Farce and Satire: Kaufman employs farce and satire to critique societal norms and the celebrity culture of his time. The exaggerated situations and characters highlight the absurdity of the characters’ predicaments and their social commentary.
  • Characterization through Interaction: The play’s characters are vividly brought to life through their interactions with one another. Kaufman’s style allows for a dynamic exploration of character relationships, revealing depth and complexity through dialogue and situational comedy.


  • Irreverently Humorous: The tone of the play is predominantly humorous, with a sharp, irreverent edge. Kaufman’s wit shines through in the banter between characters, particularly in Whiteside’s cutting remarks and the absurdity of the situations that arise.
  • Satirical: Kaufman also maintains a satirical tone throughout the play, using humor to critique and reflect on the nature of fame, the media, and the human condition. This satirical edge adds depth to the comedy, inviting the audience to reflect even as they laugh.
  • Warmth under the Wit: Despite the sharpness of its satire and the chaos of its plot, there’s an underlying warmth to the play. The tone ultimately reflects a fondness for its characters and their foibles, suggesting a hopeful view of human nature and the possibility of connection despite differences.

Together, Kaufman’s distinctive writing style and tone create a comedic masterpiece that is both entertaining and thought-provoking, reflecting the complexities of life and human relationships with humor and insight.

Literary Devices used in The Man Who Came to Dinner

  1. Irony — The play is rife with situational irony, especially seen in the premise of a man who, by coming to dinner, ends up staying far longer than intended due to an accident. This inversion of guest etiquette and the subsequent upheaval of the Stanley household underscore the comedic and thematic depths of the play.
  2. Satire — Kaufman employs satire to critique the celebrity culture of his time, using Sheridan Whiteside’s character as a vehicle to mock the eccentricities and excesses of fame. The exaggerated behaviors and situations reveal the absurdity of societal obsessions with celebrity and the superficiality of social standings.
  3. Hyperbole — Exaggeration is used for comedic effect throughout the play, such as Whiteside’s ludicrous demands and the extravagant gifts he receives, including penguins and an octopus. These hyperboles underscore the absurdity of Whiteside’s influence and the situations that unfold.
  4. Symbolism — Various objects and scenarios in the play symbolize larger themes, such as the penguins representing the invasive and disruptive nature of Whiteside’s presence, and the wheelchair symbolizing both physical and emotional confinement.
  5. Metaphor — The play itself serves as a metaphor for the invasion of privacy and the chaos that can ensue from unwelcome disruptions in life. Whiteside’s takeover of the Stanley home mirrors the intrusive nature of fame and media into personal lives.
  6. Allusion — Kaufman peppers the script with allusions to contemporary figures and cultural references of his time, lending authenticity to the characters and setting while also satirizing the celebrity culture that Whiteside epitomizes.
  7. Wit — The quick, sharp dialogue is a testament to Kaufman’s wit, serving both as a means of character development and a vehicle for the play’s satirical commentary. The witty exchanges, especially those involving Whiteside, highlight the intellectual agility and societal observations of the characters.
  8. Foreshadowing — Early mentions of Whiteside’s domineering nature and his effect on others foreshadow the chaos and conflict that his extended stay will cause, setting up expectations for the audience that are humorously fulfilled as the play progresses.
  9. Parody — Certain aspects of the play serve as a parody of the dramatic and romantic conventions of the time, especially in the portrayal of Lorraine Sheldon as the stereotypical seductress and in the melodramatic elements of the plot involving love triangles and misunderstandings.
  10. Dramatic Irony — The audience is often privy to information and intentions that some characters are unaware of, such as Whiteside’s schemes to interfere in the romantic lives of those around him. This knowledge creates a layer of dramatic irony that enhances the comedic impact of the situations as they unfold.

Each of these literary devices enriches the play, adding layers of meaning, humor, and critique that make “The Man Who Came to Dinner” a multifaceted and enduring work of theatrical comedy.

Literary Devices Examples

Below are tables for each of the top 10 literary devices used in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” providing examples and explanations for each.


Whiteside’s arrival for a dinner leading to an extended, unwelcome stayThis situation is ironic because a brief, social visit turns into a prolonged imposition, flipping the expected outcome of a dinner invitation on its head.
Whiteside, who critiques family life, becomes an integral part of the Stanley familyThe irony lies in Whiteside’s disdain for domesticity, yet he becomes deeply entangled in the family dynamics of his hosts.


Whiteside’s flamboyant critique of small-town life and celebrity cultureKaufman uses Whiteside’s exaggerated disdain and pompous behavior to satirize the absurdities of celebrity worship and the shallowness of social pretensions.


The arrival of absurd gifts, such as penguinsThe exaggeration of Whiteside’s influence and the ludicrous nature of his gifts highlight the absurdity and excess of his character and lifestyle.


The wheelchair as a symbol of confinementThe wheelchair represents Whiteside’s physical confinement to the Stanley home, but also symbolizes the emotional and situational constraints placed on all the characters.


Whiteside’s occupation of the Stanley home as an invasionThis metaphor reflects the broader theme of the disruption caused by unwelcome elements (or people) in one’s life, paralleling the intrusion of fame and media into personal spaces.


References to real-life celebrities and cultural figuresThese allusions serve to ground the play in a recognizable reality while also poking fun at the celebrity culture of Kaufman’s time.


Whiteside’s sharp retorts and quipsThe character’s wit not only defines him but also serves to critique societal norms and the absurdity of the situations he finds himself in.


Early mentions of Whiteside’s potential for chaosThese hints foreshadow the upheaval Whiteside will cause in the Stanley household and the conflicts that arise from his meddling.


Lorraine Sheldon as the archetypal seductressHer character parodies the trope of the manipulative femme fatale, highlighting the play’s critique of dramatic conventions.

Dramatic Irony

The audience knowing Whiteside’s plan to sabotage Maggie’s romanceThis knowledge creates a tension between the audience’s awareness and the characters’ obliviousness, enhancing the comedic effect of the unfolding plot.

Each table offers a glimpse into the intricate use of literary devices in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” showcasing Kaufman’s skill in weaving together elements of comedy, critique, and storytelling to create a richly layered play.

The Man Who Came to Dinner – FAQs

What is the main plot of “The Man Who Came to Dinner”?
Sheridan Whiteside, a famous radio personality, injures himself outside the home of the Stanley family in Ohio, leading to an extended stay that turns the household upside down with his eccentric behavior and bizarre requests.

Who wrote “The Man Who Came to Dinner”?
George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart are the playwrights behind “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” a classic of American theater that combines wit, satire, and slapstick comedy.

What are the major themes in “The Man Who Came to Dinner”?
The play explores themes of fame and privacy, the intrusion of celebrity into personal life, the nature of friendship and loyalty, and the clash between provincial life and the flamboyant world of show business.

Who is Sheridan Whiteside?
Sheridan Whiteside is the central character of the play, a celebrity radio host known for his wit, intellect, and lack of patience. His unexpected stay with the Stanley family serves as the catalyst for the play’s events.

How does “The Man Who Came to Dinner” critique celebrity culture?
Through the character of Sheridan Whiteside and the absurd situations that arise from his celebrity status, the play critiques the idolization of celebrities, the superficiality of fame, and the impact of celebrity behavior on the lives of ordinary people.

What role does irony play in “The Man Who Came to Dinner”?
Irony is a key element of the play’s humor, from the circumstances of Whiteside’s injury and extended stay to the various unexpected outcomes of his meddling in the lives of those around him.

Can “The Man Who Came to Dinner” be considered a satire?
Yes, the play is a satire that mocks the extravagances of celebrity culture, the quirks of high society, and the absurdities inherent in human relationships, all while entertaining the audience with its sharp dialogue and comedic situations.

What literary devices are used in “The Man Who Came to Dinner”?
The play employs a variety of literary devices, including irony, satire, hyperbole, symbolism, metaphor, allusion, wit, foreshadowing, parody, and dramatic irony, to enhance its narrative and thematic depth.

How does “The Man Who Came to Dinner” reflect the societal norms of its time?
While the play is a timeless comedy, it also reflects the societal norms and cultural preoccupations of the late 1930s, particularly in its portrayal of celebrity culture, social hierarchies, and the clash between different ways of life.


QuestionsABCDCorrect Answer
Who is the main character in “The Man Who Came to Dinner”?Sheridan WhitesideMaggie CutlerBert JeffersonLorraine SheldonA
What causes Sheridan Whiteside to stay at the Stanley household?He is invited for a longer stayHe decides to write a book thereHe slips on ice and injures himselfA misunderstanding with Mr. StanleyC
Which character falls in love with Bert Jefferson?Maggie CutlerLorraine SheldonBanjoHarriet StanleyA
What does Lorraine Sheldon plan to do to win Bert’s affection?Take him on a cruiseIntroduce him to Broadway producersSteal his play to get it producedPretend to be interested in his journalismC
How does Whiteside attempt to prevent Maggie from leaving?By offering her a raiseBy pretending to be more injuredBy inviting Lorraine Sheldon to interveneBy promising her a vacationC
Which character helps to resolve the conflict towards the end of the play?BanjoHarriet StanleyMr. StanleyDr. BradleyA
What type of literary work is “The Man Who Came to Dinner”?NovelPlayPoemShort StoryB
What is a major theme of the play?The importance of familyThe absurdity of celebrity cultureThe beauty of small-town lifeThe power of loveB
Which of the following gifts does Whiteside receive during his stay?A crate of penguinsA basket of exotic fruitsA set of encyclopediasA collection of rare coinsA
Who wrote “The Man Who Came to Dinner”?Tennessee WilliamsGeorge S. Kaufman and Moss HartArthur MillerNeil SimonB

This quiz is designed to test comprehension of key plot points, characters, themes, and authors related to “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”


Spot the Literary Devices

Read the following paragraph from “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and identify the literary devices used:

“Sheridan Whiteside sat in his wheelchair, the very picture of annoyance, as the penguins squawked merrily in the background. ‘My dear Mrs. Stanley,’ he began, his voice dripping with a sarcasm so thick it could be cut with a knife, ‘I would no more leave your delightful home than I would fly to the moon on the wings of a goose. Your hospitality enchants me as much as these charming Antarctic creatures you’ve so thoughtfully provided for my amusement.’ The room, filled with the odd assortment of gifts from his admirers — from the octopus in the corner to the Egyptian mummy case propped against the wall — was a testament to the bizarre world Whiteside had dragged into the Stanley household.”

Answer Key

  • Metaphor: “his voice dripping with a sarcasm so thick it could be cut with a knife” — This metaphor vividly conveys the extent of Whiteside’s sarcasm without directly stating it.
  • Irony: “I would no more leave your delightful home than I would fly to the moon on the wings of a goose.” — Whiteside’s statement is ironic because his tone suggests he finds little delight in staying but is forced to due to his condition.
  • Hyperbole: “fly to the moon on the wings of a goose” — This exaggerated statement emphasizes the impossibility and absurdity of Whiteside’s situation and his sarcastic wit.
  • Symbolism: The odd assortment of gifts, particularly the penguins and the Egyptian mummy case, symbolize the intrusion of Whiteside’s chaotic celebrity world into the Stanley’s orderly home life.
  • Satire: The entire scene satirizes the excesses of celebrity culture and the impact of Whiteside’s presence on the Stanley family, using humor to critique the situation.

This exercise encourages students to explore and understand the use of literary devices in enhancing the narrative and thematic depth of the play.