The Night the Bed Fell

by James Thurber

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What are the tones in "The Night the Bed Fell"?

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The tone of "The Night the Bed Fell" by James Thurber is both absurd and outright comical. The narrator of the story recounts one legendary evening in his family when his mother thought a bed had fallen on his father. The narrator introduces us to many of the members of his oddball family, including "Old Aunt Clarissa Beall," who was sure she’d die on the same street where she was born and married, and Herman, the narrator’s brother, who sings in his sleep. As the story progresses and the recounting of the central chain of events is activated, the tone becomes outright slapstick, as one unexpected reaction from an oddball relative leads to another, which ultimately leads to the mother’s relief at the actual outcome.

It is important to note that the tone in the story is never cruel or condescending towards its characters; the narrator seems to have real affection for everyone involved.

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Although the story recounts a series of chaotic and confusing incidents, the main tone is light-hearted. The narrator is relating these events retrospectively, and is able to look back on them with calm amusement. There is an element of slapstick comedy as events spiral out of control. The story also edges into the comic grotesque mode with the depiction of the narrator's decidedly peculiar relatives, such as the various aunts who suffer from 'burglar phobia'. The narrator talks of them with affection and an element of good-natured mockery.

The tone of the story is also nostalgic overall, as the narrator looks back to a time of when family members (odd or otherwise) assembled together, and looked out for each other, even if the events of this particular night are cast in a humorous light. Whether or not they actually happened as recounted, is debatable, as Thurber was given to embroidering these personal reminiscences of his past. 

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