The Night the Bed Fell

by James Thurber

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Student Question

Who are the characters in “The Night the Bed Fell” by James Thurber and what are their strange characteristics?

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A list of each character and the strange characteristics or paranoia they possess for James Thurber’s autobiographical story “The Night the Bed Fell” would include the fears of the aunts and the grandfather's belief that the American Civil War is still going on.

There are several characters with quirky traits in this story. In the second paragraph, the narrator, presumably Thurber, introduces Grandfather, who complains about the Federal Union and the Army of the Potomac. These are terms tied to the American Civil War, so the grandfather’s strange characteristic is that he thinks he’s in the middle of the Civil War.

Next, the narrator presents a first cousin, Briggs Beall. He’s paranoid that he will stop breathing when he sleeps and, thus, die. The aunts, too, have remarkable paranoias. Aunt Melissa Beall fears she will die on South High Street, while Aunt Sarah Shoaf is afraid a criminal intends to “blow chloroform under her door through a tube.” Another aunt, Aunt Gracie Shoaf, is paranoid about burglars.

The characters with traits that aren’t as explicitly strange or paranoid include the narrator, his brothers, and his mom and dad. Then again, maybe there’s something strange about wanting to sleep in the attic. Perhaps the mom’s reaction to the commotion is a bit paranoid, or, as the narrator puts it, “hysterical.”

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