The Night the Bed Fell

by James Thurber

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In "The Night the Bed Fell," why does the narrator prefer recitation over writing?

Quick answer:

In "The Night the Bed Fell," the narrator states that the tale makes a better recitation than a piece of writing because so many wildly funny things happen that the story would be more entertaining with accompanying sounds and actions.

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The comedic short story "The Night the Bed Fell" by James Thurber relates a series of wild events that take place one night in the home of the narrator and his family. The narrator himself says in the first paragraph that "it makes a better recitation than it does a piece of writing." He then qualifies this comment by stipulating that some of his friends, who have already heard the story five or six times, might not agree; this is because they might have grown tired of hearing the story told so many times.

In the same paragraph, the narrator explains that it would make a better recitation because to tell it properly requires actions and sound effects. He writes,

It is almost necessary to throw furniture around, shake doors, and bark like a dog, to lend the proper atmosphere and verisimilitude to what is admittedly a somewhat incredible tale.

To understand why the narrator thinks that actions and sounds would embellish the story, we only need to read on to find out what happens in a very short space of time. The narrator's father goes up into the attic to sleep so "he could think," although his mother thinks the bed will fall on his father. The cousin that sleeps in the room with the narrator thinks he needs to wake up every hour in the night or he will "die of suffocation." Everyone goes to bed. Then a chain of events begins, resulting in utter chaos.

First, the narrator's cot overturns with a crash, throwing him onto the floor. His mother wakes up, thinking the attic bed has fallen on his father, screams, runs upstairs, and bangs on the attic door. The brother sleeping with his mother starts shouting at her. The cousin sleeping near the narrator wakes up, douses himself with camphor and, gasping for air, breaks a window with his fist. The dog starts barking and then attacks the cousin. All of these events happen quickly one after the other. We can see, then, how this series of wild activities would be more entertaining if they were acted out instead of merely written down.

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