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One of Thurber's favourite subjects was marriage in middle life. In this particular story, a man and his wife both suffer from marital burnout, although the wife is outwardly the most belligerent of the two. For example, when the husband wakes up his wife to tell her he saw a unicorn in the garden, she just turns over, glares at him and announces flatly,"You are a booby and I am going to put you in the booby-hatch." Her hubby doesn't flinch but wanders back down to the garden and feeds the unicorn a lily. Then he goes back inside only to learn that his wife has called up a policeman and a psychiatrist to take him away to the funny farm, but when questioned about the unicorn, he feigns ignorance, thus turning the tables on his wife. The policeman and the psychiatrist take the wife away to an insane asylum, kicking and screaming, while "...the husband lived happily ever after."
If the woman is the most aggressive, the husband is the most cunning, for after all it is he who 'wins' in the end (whether there had been a real unicorn or not!)
In the short story, “A Unicorn in the Garden”, there are two main characters (three if you count the unicorn). The husband is first presented as mild and unassuming. Perhaps he comes across as a little odd or eccentric. When we are introduced to the wife, however, we as readers accept that the husband is a little out of touch with reality simply because the wife is a mean spirited woman and hard to live with. At this point, she is the only character that Thurber has constructed with emotion, “. . . unfriendly eye . . . coldly . . . gloat in her eye.” The only emotion that the mild mannered husband is shone to have is, “. . . with a high heart . . .,” and when we read that it seems a little out of place until we reach the conclusion of the story. At this point the formerly mild and unassuming husband comes across as devilishly brilliant when his wife is hauled off to the booby hatch because “he saw a unicorn in the garden.”
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