The Matchmaker - Act 1 Summary & Analysis

This Study Guide consists of approximately 45 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Matchmaker.
This section contains 873 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)

Act 1 Summary

Act 1 takes place in the home of Horace Vandergelder, which is situated over his feed store in Yonkers, New York. A barber is shaving Horace, a 60-year-old miser, as Horace argues with Ambrose Kemper. Ambrose is an artist who wants to marry Horace's niece, Ermengarde. Horace intends to send Ermengarde away to a secret place, but his deaf housekeeper has given away the location of the secret place, telling exactly where it is. Ermengarde is going to visit a family friend, Flora Van Huysen, in New York. Ambrose leaves, gratefully kissing the housekeeper.

Horace dresses for a parade in the morning and for courting in the afternoon. He confides to the audience that, although he believes marriage is for fools, he intends to marry. He has enlisted the help one of his deceased wife's friends, Dolly Levi, to find a new wife.

When Dolly arrives to meet with Horace, she overhears Ambrose trying to convince Ermengarde to elope with him right away. However, Ermengarde wants a "proper" wedding, complete with her uncle's blessing. Dolly sends Ermengarde back to her room to get ready as she assures Ambrose that she will arrange things so that the young couple will have a proper wedding. Dolly is not concerned with propriety, but she wants to make sure Ermengarde receives her inheritance from her miserly uncle.

Dolly explains to Ambrose that she is interfering in their lives not only for her own benefit, but also for the pleasure of seeing Horace's money circulate. Dolly has a plan to take Ermengarde to her own home in New York, rather than to Flora's home, and she instructs Ambrose to meet them for dinner at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant in New York this evening.

Ambrose leaves, and Dolly waits for Horace, who returns to the living room dressed for the parade. He announces that he will propose to Irene Molloy. The audience can see that Dolly is flustered by this news, and she fabricates a "Miss Simple" for Horace to meet first. Dolly confides to the audience that she plans to replace the wallpaper in the living room, helping to confirm the suspicion that she wants to marry Horace her self. For now, Horace pays her $25 for her matchmaking services. Dolly and Horace plan to meet, at Irene's hat shop in New York in the afternoon, and later for dinner with Miss Simple at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant.

Meanwhile, Horace has "promoted" Cornelius Hackl to the position of chief clerk, and he leaves him in charge of the shop while he goes to New York. However, Cornelius resents this pretend promotion and he is fed up with working long hours for very little reward. He and the younger clerk, Barnaby, decide to go to New York for a night on the town. They do not know that Horace hired a third clerk, Malachi, and sent him ahead to New York to make arrangements.

Act 1 Analysis

In the first conversation of the first act, Wilder gives us the central conflict of the play. "Gelder" is a German word meaning "money." Horace's surname, Vandergelder, indicates he is "of the money." Ambrose's name, on the other hand, reminds one of "ambrosia," a pleasure to the senses. The play opens with this question: Which is the more worthy pursuit: financial security or pleasure, business or the arts?

Horace spends his life earning and hording money. He claims to believe that love is for fools. Even in his own search for a wife, Horace cannot admit he might be lonely. He claims he needs a woman just to work, like an ant carrying twice its weight, to help him save money and bring order to his home. However, his concern for his niece and her security gives the audience reason to be sympathetic towards him. Through this character, Thornton Wilder shows us his view of the middle class. He is both critical of its selfishness and compassionate of its desire for safety and stability.

Ambrose Kemper is a stereotypical angry young man. He feels money, or the lack of it, should not keep him from having whatever he wants. Ermengarde seems not to have thought much about money at all. She is accustomed to her uncle taking care of her. She wants Ambrose, but she also wants to be a "proper" young lady. She does not want to lose her uncle's favor, which is the only security she knows.

Dolly Levi is a character that gives voice to a more mature perspective on this conflict. She says to Ambrose Kemper that money "should be flowing down among the people, through dressmakers and restaurants and cabmen, setting up a little business here, and furnishing a good time there." Dolly is not anti-money, but she is anti-greed. Unlike Ambrose and Ermengarde, Dolly is old enough to provide a realistic perspective about the need for money.

When Cornelius and Barnaby discuss a dreary future working for Horace Vandergelder, Cornelius speaks of the danger of greed. One would become a Vandergelder, that is, a miser, by narrowing his life to nothing more than work and money. Though Cornelius dislikes his boss, he also seems to realize that greed is a shortcoming of human nature.

This section contains 873 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
The Matchmaker from Gale. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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