The Night the Bed Fell

by James Thurber

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Why does the author discuss other family members' phobias in "The Night the Bed Fell"?

Quick answer:

In "The Night the Bed Fell," the author writes about the odd phobias of other family members for comedic effect. He is writing a comedy tale, and his intention is to get his readers to laugh, so he is not really straying off topic. Instead, all of the accumulated absurdities and eccentricities build up to an extremely funny climax.

Expert Answers

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The basic plot of the short story "The Night the Bed Fell" by James Thurber is actually very simple. The father wants some time alone to think, and so he goes to sleep on an old bed in the attic. The mother is afraid the rickety bed will fall on him and kill him, and when the narrator's cot falls over, a lot of chaos ensues, but it turns out that the father in the attic is just fine.

As a comedy tale, this story's main intent is to make readers laugh. Everything that the narrator says up to the chaotic ending is buildup for what follows. Thurber wants to create one absurdity after another until the climax. To this end, in describing the eccentricities of the various family members and relatives, the author is not straying from the main topic but in fact getting to the heart of it. The narrator uses the threat of the bed falling as the centerpiece of his tale, but all the peripheral anecdotes give the story depth and even a sort of surreal verisimilitude.

A good analogy to consider is the performance of standup comedians. These comedians often start their routines by beginning a story about their personal life or their past, but as they tell it, they seem to deviate more and more from the original story line until it seems like they might have forgotten what they originally intended to say. More often than not, though, by the end of the performance they return to that original anecdote and bring it to a satisfying conclusion. This happens at the end of Thurber's story as well, when the assembled family members put everything together, "like a gigantic jig-saw puzzle."

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