(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The ridiculous man introduces himself as he is seen by his friends and neighbors, a madman who was formerly considered to be merely ridiculous. He states, however, that he does not mind being the object of laughter and does not dislike those who ridicule him; on the contrary, he pities them. He alone possesses the Truth; he wishes that others would believe him. After this introduction, the narrator goes back in time to describe why he was always considered ridiculous, how a dream changed his life, and why he is now considered a madman by his peers.

The narrator relates that he has always been considered ridiculous, that he himself knows that he has always been ridiculous, but that pride has kept him from admitting this fact to anyone else. As he gets older, this feeling of ridiculousness is balanced somewhat by a growing realization that nothing matters; life is meaningless. One evening, this latter feeling oppresses the narrator, and he decides to commit suicide that very night by shooting himself with a revolver that he has bought for that specific purpose. On his way home to commit the act, he is intercepted by an eight-year-old girl who is sobbing and seeking help for her mother. The narrator dismisses the girl, but he returns home deeply impressed by the poverty and fear that she exhibited. He places the revolver on the table before him, but as he sits and stares at the gun, his mind wanders back to the girl. He reflects on the fact that he can still feel pity for another person and that there are people who are, or who might be, dependent on him. This startling conclusion leads him to think about life again, and he decides to put off his suicide until he can resolve the questions in his mind. He then falls asleep in his chair and begins the dream that will change his life and his attitude toward the world.

The narrator imagines his own suicide, the ensuing confusion when his body is discovered by the landlady and neighbors, and then the placing of his coffin into the grave. After an unspecified time, a strange being opens the coffin, picks the narrator up, and begins flying through space. The ridiculous man realizes that he was wrong; death does not mean the end of existence but the beginning of some new type of life. That conclusion is confirmed when the strange being deposits him on another planet, which he recognizes as a duplication of Earth. The setting is beautiful; left alone by the strange being, the narrator inspects the trees and birds of his new home. The inhabitants of the area find him and welcome him with open arms. He, in turn, is impressed with their sincere friendliness, their beauty, and the joy that they project. He then realizes that these people have never...

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