"And Maggie Makes Three" - A Commentary on Reality in The Simpsons

by Keya Shirali

The world of The Simpsons, although a cartoon, realistically reflects what it means to be white, nuclear and middle-class. This is contextually captured in “And Maggie Makes Three” (Season 6, Episode 13), which delves into middle-class-oriented themes of the American Dream, family planning and the employment experience. The Simpsons family, beyond all its oddities is really a caricature of the compromises the average middle-class makes to substitute its unachieved American Dream with. However, the most noticeable theme of this episode is “fatherhood”, and how the sheer joy of parenting alone can dispel the grueling aspects of reality.

This episode serves as a backstory to both Maggie’s birth and Homer’s professional journey. It begins with the Simpsons glancing through a family photo album, upon which Lisa is curious as to why there are no baby pictures of Maggie. Homer then delves into a narrative flashback: upon receiving his paycheck at the nuclear power plant, it strikes him that he now has enough funds to pay off his debts and seek employment at his dream workplace – the bowling alley. Elated, after careful budgeting he reminds Marge that the permanence of his satisfactory employment at the bowling alley is contingent upon the avoidance of a third child. However, Marge is accidentally pregnant again, a fact that she can't hide for long. Upon its disclosure, Homer is devastated; it means that he must leave his pleasurable bowling alley job and return to the depressing power plant, all so he can sufficiently finance a family of five. However, eventually Homer is delighted at Maggie’s birth upon her first cry, and accepts his new child and disappointing professional situation with refreshing optimism.

Certain scenes critique the blue-collar workplace environment, for instance, Mr. Burns’ reception of Homer when he seeks re-employment at the nuclear power plant. Mr. Burns informs Homer that he is to be presented with a “plague” like every returning employee, upon which Smithers provides a correction by stating he means to say a “plaque”. Homer is indeed provided with a plaque, one that in fact harshly states in bold typing: “DON’T FORGET. YOU’RE HERE FOREVER.” However, Mr. Burns’ mispronunciation of the word seems intentional; it is witty dialogue, which by way of wordplay means to convey a double meaning. While he presents him with a “plaque”, he likens Homer’s situation to a kind of “plague” – literally, the nuclear power plant is a toxic work atmosphere, but metaphorically it is just as debilitating because of its lifelessness and monotony.  

Homer does not let the plaque demoralize him. In fact, Maggie’s birth renders Homer's profound character development and lends audiences insight into his paternalistic side, sans humour. Homer mentions Maggie’s baby pictures are missing because he used them to cover up certain letters of the plaque, thereby changing the words to “DO IT FOR HER”, altering the meaning of the plaque completely.

His motivation for working at the bowling alley may have been unambitious and pleasure seeking, but it nonetheless encompassed the ideals of the American Dream. Upon the 'Dream’s' eventual shattering, his determination is focused towards a different ideal of the typical middle-class American family – the welfare of his children. The Simpsons makes socioeconomic commentary on the implausibility of the American Dream ideal for the middle-class, whilst striking an emotional chord with audiences using Homer’s paternal instinct.

Homer’s characterization plays an important role in the emergence of these themes. Usually, Homer is portrayed to be infantile in his ways. However, as he is faced later with the disappointment of a return to the power plant, his words convey a developing sense of familial responsibility as he says, “I need to take this burden all on myself.” Perhaps the purpose of his reaction was his attempt to conform to his gender role and the male standard of being the breadwinner and caretaker of his family. Or, this was a build up towards the final revelation that would reinvigorate a sense of fatherhood in him. Either way, this lends dynamism to his character, making it less cardboard like – the fact that Homer is not just lazy or ignorant, but someone who is capable of depth and complexity.

“And Maggie Makes Three” at its core is really about Homer’s attempt at becoming a good father. Enveloped in themes of shattered dreams, optimism and very real-worldly problems, this episode brings a new humanity to Homer Simpson by providing him with a redeeming character arc. This pretend world strikes a chord with the audience because it consists of a very practical, lifelike plotline. Homer’s sense of fatherhood matures in a typical middle-class setting, one the viewership of this show predominantly resonates with.