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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1126

Supernatural This story asks readers to accept the existence of the ghost mentioned in the title as a plausible, if uncommon, explanation for what occurs in this article. Many times, ghost stories offer readers evidence for natural explanations for the events that the characters themselves believe are caused by the...

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This story asks readers to accept the existence of the ghost mentioned in the title as a plausible, if uncommon, explanation for what occurs in this article. Many times, ghost stories offer readers evidence for natural explanations for the events that the characters themselves believe are caused by the supernatural. Although it seems very unlikely that a real ghost would have created a disturbance in the house, Thurber gives readers overwhelming evidence that the sounds that he heard were indeed supernatural. For instance, the police check the house and say that all of the doors and windows are locked from the inside; nothing in the house is said to have been taken by burglars; and the father and brother, who are at first assumed do have come home from Indianapolis early, do not in fact appear in the story.

Like more traditional ghost stories, this one touches upon several possible explanations that would not force readers to accept supernatural causes. Herman’s nervousness suggests that he may have been in a state of mind that would make up sounds and would accept things that go outside the bounds of normal reality. A nervous disposition is often used in ghost stories to explain why someone would make up the idea of a ghost, but, in this case, it is not only Herman who hears the ghost; it is heard by three people, including Thurber’s mother, who shows no sign of believing in the supernatural. Also, Thurber makes a point of mentioning that it ‘‘did not enter my mind until later that it was a ghost,’’ indicating that the supernatural interpretation is an act of his wandering imagination. Still, though he casts doubts on the idea of there being a real ghost, the evidence that he presents leads to the conclusion that there was.

The humor in ‘‘The Night the Ghost Got In’’ derives from the story’s ability to show a world where absurdity rules. There are forces working to bring about order in this story, but they are easily outweighed and outwitted by the forces that struggle to create nonsense out of sense.

The sense of order is represented here in the authority held by the police force. When strange sounds occur in the dining room, both Thurber, who thinks the cause is a ghost, and his mother, who thinks it is burglars, rely on the police to take control. Their ability to impose order is far outweighed by the absurd elements in the house, though. These elements include the narrator’s inability to find any clothes; the mother’s urge to give in to the ‘‘thrill’’ of throwing a second shoe through the neighbors’ window, even though the first had done its job; the grandfather’s demented certainty that the policemen are deserters from Meade’s army; and the grandfather’s reversal of that dementia the next morning, when he implies that he knew they were policemen all along. The police themselves add an absurd element by their eagerness to find something amiss: They arrive at the house with too many men and are overenthusiastic about tearing through the family’s front door and their personal effects, proving themselves to be a threat to the people they are there to protect.

The element that readers might expect to make sense of these events is the narrator. Because he is writing as an adult, Thurber might have, in a more serious work, explained that the absurd events that went on in his house may have seemed normal at the time but that he sees them differently now. He does not distance himself from them in this way, though; instead, he calmly asserts that it was indeed a ghost in the house. The narrative voice is just as involved in the absurdity as the members of the household.

Though the characters in this story seem to be members of an ordinary family, they are defiant to forces from outside of the house that come to change them. The most obvious example of this occurs when Grandfather actually shoots a policeman. His remarks at the breakfast table give readers good reason to believe that the senility that excused his violence of the night before was just a ruse, that he may well have known what he was doing all along. He knows how to put up enough resistance to the police who have disturbed his sleep to make them go away, mixing the frightening prospect that he might shoot again with just the right balance of rationality so that they believe he will cause no more trouble if they leave the matter for his grandson to handle. In this way, he is successful in subverting the authority that the policemen show themselves so anxious to assert.

The narrator of the story shows his defiance in a more subtle, less confrontational way. His lack of clothing is explained insufficiently by the fact that he could find nothing to wear, in his own house, over the length of time that the story covers. It can also be read as an act of defiance against the representatives of society’s authority. The fact that it bothers the police officers is clear when one of them mentions, after the narrator is dressed, that he had been ‘‘nekked’’ when they arrived. Later, he wears one of his mother’s blouses, which shows a mocking attitude toward social gender norms that perplexes the outsiders. Lacking the respect that society would show to an aged war veteran like his grandfather, he is even less obvious about his defi- ance, explaining it to readers as if it were quite natural, but his casualness about it hides the fact that, in his own house, Thurber was free to flaunt society’s customs.

Comedy of Life
Despite the eccentricities of the Thurber household, this story is drawn from the tradition of comedy that laughs at common, everyday occurrences. Most readers will not have had a ghost in their house, but they will know the experience of hearing a strange noise that has no rational explanation. And, while it is uncommon for carloads of policemen and reporters to arrive in answer to a call, almost everyone can identify with the idea of things spinning out of control, with officials, stuffed by their own self-importance, working hard to find more trouble than is actually there. And the grouchy old grandfather living in the past is a character familiar throughout the world’s cultures, even though such a character is usually ‘‘ornery’’ or ‘‘cantankerous,’’ not violent. American humor has a gentle strain, poking fun at the middle-class household that fits poorly into society’s norms, and this story is a classic example of that type of humor.

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