The Night the Bed Fell

by James Thurber

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Why does Briggs always keep a glass of water beside him at night in "The Night the Bed Fell"?

Quick answer:

Briggs keeps a glass of liquid camphor on his nightstand to revive himself if his cousin forgets to rouse him. Briggs has an irrational fear that he will stop breathing in his sleep, suffocate, and die, so he has some odd practices to prevent this from happening.

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James Thurber's humorous short story "The Night the Bed Fell" is filled with strange, quirky characters, including the narrator's first cousin, Briggs Beall.

Briggs has a nervous personality and is consumed by the irrational fear that he will stop breathing in his sleep. He is convinced he must wake at least once an hour throughout the night to avoid death by suffocation. In an attempt to ease his fear, he sets his alarm clock to sound at one-hour intervals while he sleeps at night.

The narrator attempts to dissuade Briggs from setting hourly alarms because the two are sharing a bedroom during Briggs's visit. The narrator tells Briggs that he is a light sleeper and promises to wake him if and when he stops breathing. Briggs tests his cousin by holding his breath when he thinks he is asleep. True to his word, the narrator (who is secretly awake) realizes Briggs is no longer breathing and alerts him.

Briggs is somewhat comforted by his cousin's promise, but he is still fearful of dying in his sleep. As an extra preventive measure, Briggs keeps a glass filled with liquid camphor on the table next to his bed. Camphor has a strong, powerful scent and is often used as a revival aid. Briggs wants the glass of camphor nearby in case his cousin forgets to wake him, in which case he plans to use the camphor to revive himself.

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