Literature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 3 Chapters 21 30 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 3, Chapters 21–30 | Summary



Corporal Trim enters the parlor, having completed a little project for Uncle Toby's model siege works—a pair of mortars made from old boots. A creaky hinge on the parlor door wakes the two old gentlemen from their nap. Walter starts to upbraid Toby and Trim for destroying his favorite boots, but Toby immediately apologizes and offers to pay for them. Touched by Toby's willingness to set matters right, Walter relents.

Dr. Slop, meanwhile, is in the kitchen making a "bridge." Hearing this, Toby assumes it is a model bridge, to replace one inadvertently destroyed by Trim during a moonlight tryst with his girlfriend Bridget. Since this little disaster took place, Toby has been planning and prototyping a replacement drawbridge for his fort, but he has only recently decided what kind of bridge to build. He is thus surprised and pleased to hear that Dr. Slop is already constructing one.

The bridge in question, however, turns out to have nothing to do with fort-building: it is a crude prosthesis meant to prop up the baby's nose, which has been "crushed ... as flat as a pancake" during delivery. Anguished and exasperated at this news, Walter goes to his room immediately, flops down on the bed "in the wildest disorder imaginable," and lies motionless. To explain this dramatic reaction, Tristram warns, will require a half-hour detour into the Shandy family history.


The events in these chapters serve to flesh out the characters of Trim and Toby, whose fort-building exploits momentarily steal the show. Trim, as a rule, has the best of intentions and wants only to impress Uncle Toby with his resourcefulness. However, he often fails to think things through, and he has a habit of "borrowing" household items to improve the backyard fort. This is certainly the case here: Trim has spotted a pair of old boots, assumed nobody will miss them, and set about turning them into miniature mortars (short cannon-like weapons that fire explosive shells). This time, he has merely angered and inconvenienced Walter by destroying a cherished heirloom. His "borrowing" will have more serious consequences in Vol. 5, when he inadvertently turns the windows of Shandy Hall into mini-guillotines by removing their lead counterweights.

Toby, though perhaps a little more conscientious, is generally just as single-minded as his sidekick. Whenever a military-sounding term is mentioned in conversation, Toby's ears perk up, and he suddenly takes a great an interest in the discussion. To the reader, and to most of the novel's characters, the context is sufficient to show that no military meaning is intended: why would Dr. Slop, who has no real interest in warfare, take a break from his work as an obstetrician to construct a miniature drawbridge? Toby, however, lives in his own little world of battlements and barricades. From his point of view the question is: why would Dr. Slop not want to build a drawbridge?

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