My Life and Hard Times is a collection of stories that don’t take life too seriously. However, there are some serious social themes.
- Family members are people we love and tolerate no matter how strange they are.
The first essay in the collection, “The Night the Bed Fell,” exemplifies this idea. Thurber’s life seems to have peopled with the strangest people imaginable: cousin Briggs, “who believed that he was likely to cease breathing when he was asleep” (p. 3), Old Aunt Alelissa Beall who thinks she will die on the street she was born on, Grandfather, who disappears for days on end, and his father who goes upstairs to think even though the bed is precarious.
2. There is humor in everyday life.
If Thurber teaches us anything, it is that life is funny. Thurber’s voice is one of the reasons we enjoy these essays. He sees humor in everyday life, and describes it in such a matter-of-fact way that it becomes unbelievably funny.
The reporter looked at me with mingled suspicion and interest. "Just what the hell is the real lowdown here, Bud?" he asked. I decided to be frank with him. "We had ghosts," I said. He gazed at me a long time as if I were a slot machine into which he had, without results, dropped a nickel. Then he walked away. (p. 39)
The night they had ghosts (and police and reporters) is a perfect example of the absurdity and silliness of everyday life. Sometimes you just have to go with it!
3. People too often take others’ words for it without seeing for themselves.
One of the strangest essays in the collection is a description of an entire town that went running from a flood when the dam broke- except that the dam never really broke.
[If] anyone ever wished a city was in hell it was during that frightful and perilous afternoon in 1913 when the dam broke, or, to be more exact, when everybody in town thought that the dam broke. (p. 21)
This example of mass hysteria is both funny and sad. It reinforces how fragile humanity is, as too many times people descend into madness because they just follow others there.
All of these stories remind us that life is fragile. Our world is made up of a series of interesting people and minor mishaps.