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My Life in Hard Times: Characterization

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1 My Life in Hard Times: Characterization
Annie cross, Courtney Chin, Megan Griffith Period 1; chapters 1-4

2 Thesis: Familial roles and relationships aid to revealing certain aspects and attributes of many characters within a novel; Thurber uses these techniques within chapters 1-4 of My Life and Hard Times in order to keep the reader’s interest by failing the expectations of normality within his work to create a contrast to the chaotic nature of his family.

3 Chapter 1: The Night the Bed Fell
Father - the first character introduced besides Thurber himself. Presented as stubborn. Ends the chaos. “There was no dissuading him” pg 3 Mother - worries about family. Understood through her hysterical actions and how she responds to situations. “Let’s go to your poor father!”  pg 7 Grandfather - Not present in this anecdote, but Thurber introduces him shortly and immediately gives the impression of his wild personality.

4 Chapter 1: The Night The Bed Fell
The Aunts - Thurber strays from the story of the bed falling to describe some of his interesting aunts. Adds depth to the story and feels more conversational. “she would arise, tiptoe to the door, open it slightly and heave a shoe down the hall” pg 5

5 Chapter 1: The Night The Bed Fell
Briggs Beall - Nervous cousin. Description of this character adds to the consistent feeling of chaos in the family and adds to the confusion in the anecdote. Thurber - develops his own character through the re- telling of this story. The description of his family members reflect in his own character. One can assume he is just as crazy as his family and this is supported by his reaction to the confusion. “‘Get me out!’ I think I had the nightmarish belief that I was entombed in a mine” pg 8

6 Chapter 2: The Car We Had To Push
Father & Roy: “This was a little scheme of Roy’s to frighten father, who had always expected the car would explode” Over the course of the chapter, Thurber introduces Roy as a scheming sibling who is clever enough to find realistic ways to trick his father.  The relationship between the two can be tied into the family to show how each personality trait of another added to the chaotic events that happened within the novel, and how the actions of each character aided to the weird personality traits of the others to create more random, odd events. Thurber: “The boys I went to school wtih used to be able to identify every car as it passed by...I never could.” 11,13 -A small quote where Thurber actually mentions himself and his thoughts in the past to illustrate how he either had trouble identifying cars or was not interested in the normal activities that were popular around him. Gives his audience a look into how he became the character he was as an adult. He was only interested in the car the Get-Ready man drove, because it was really wacky. Mother: “She came naturally by her confused and groundless fears, for her own mother lived the latter years of her life in the horrible suspicion that electricity was dripping invisibly all over the house” 16 -This characterizes mother by showing the relation of Thurber’s mother to his grandmother. By pointing out the similarities between the two within the chapter, it also reveals roles within the family and insight into why the family is as odd and chaotic as it is.

7 Chapter 2: The Car We Had To Push
Grandfather: “Time was all mixed up in his mind...he apparently gathered...that somebody had died.” “Grandfather was given to these sudden, unexpected, lucid moments; they were generally more embarrassing than his other moments.” -Thurber utilizes Chapter 2 especially to characterize Grandfather, as he includes two opposing incidents to convey Grandfather’s unpredictable personality and actions. He uses Grandfather’s confusion to add to the chaos of the family and create ties to minor characters, such as Zenas.  Because Zenas died in a very odd way (“chestnut blight” 20), this portrays how almost no aspects of his family life are considered “normal.” He then uses Grandfather’s Lucid moment to show fast change in the patterns and expectations of the reader to show unpredictability within the novel.

8 Chapter 3: The Day the Dam Broke
Grandfather: Although he was rarely in the right mind set, the grandfather is made out to be particularly lucid during the chaotic situation. On page 26, Thurber states, “(grandfather) rose to magnificent heights..even though his reactions to the flood were based upon a profound misconception” Thurber changes the perception of Grandpa, as he knew the right way to deal with the situation even with his distorted mental abilities, while the most profound citizens did not. He is shown as the calming factor throughout the chapter through the positive tone developed from Thurber, as he lead the family to stay in the house and kept them away from the storm of people.

9 Chapter 3: The Day the Dam Broke
The citizens of Columbus, Ohio: Thurber explains the citizens of his town in a negative tone, commenting on their mindless actions, as he states on page 22, “Even though we were as safe as kittens, some of the most dignified, staid, cynical, and clear-thinking men in town abandoned their their wives, homes, and offices and ran east”     Thurber describes even the police officers and firemen, a position that is supposed to be filled by someone with courage and knowledge to “add color to the black streams of people” as they start to bawl while running. As everyone in the town joined in on the situation by believing the rumors, the humor of 2,000 people adds to the chaos described throughout the book, relating these characters back to the failing aspect of normality to attract the reader.

10 Chapter 3: The Day the Dam Broke
Dr. H. R. Mallory: As well as the officers and firemen, Dr. H. R. Mallory is another character that was seemed to be sophisticated, yet Thurber narrates him in a negative light. The Doctor was described to be the “man in the white beard who looks like Robert Browning”, on page 29. Robert Browning is said to be one of the foremost Victorian poets, from his mastery of dramatic verse. As Thurber compares these two personalities, Dr. Mallory is set up to be a more wise person, yet makes the most childish actions. He mistook a boy on rollerskates for water, and disregarded getting into his car after contemplating it, and began to scream and run. “Even twenty years later..Dr. Mallory will shut up like a clam if you mention the Afternoon of the Great Run.” page 31.

11 Chapter 4: The Night the Ghost Got In
Narrator: Thurber adds to the overall chaos of the novel by misunderstanding noises in his house. Stated on page 32 that he “should have kept on walking and gone to bed,” he created more of a scene than the actual noises did, and jumped to conclusions before addressing where the noises came from. This gives the reader the impression that Thurber has just as much of a chaotic personality as the rest of his family. Herman: Herman is described to be somewhat of a hypochondriac, as he “always half suspected that something would get him.” The situation increases his stress and worries, and the reader gets the impression that he is constantly scared. Even though he “half suspects,” he still runs to his room and slams the door.

12 Chapter 4: The Night the Ghost Got In
Mother: In chapter 1, she is made out to be a motherly figure who worries about the family and has similar chaotic reactions as everyone else. She also jumps to conclusions that the noises are coming from burglars and continues to not call the cops. - “Mother made one of her quick, incomparable decisions” on page 35. -Not only did she not call the cops over the noises heard in the house, she picks up a shoe and flings it through a pane of glass in the neighbors house to get their attention, creating a louder and more chaotic situation. Shown as mockery to authority figures, which she brings upon herself. Bodwell: Seems to be a more quiet, patient character, although he gets upset at first. . Even though mother is throwing shoes at his window, he still comprehends what she shouts to him and calls the cops to help them.

13 Chapter 4: The Night the Ghost Got In
The Police: They are first shown as capable figures, as they arrive in a “commendably short time, a Ford Sedan full of them..” They took the call seriously, bringing back up with them. After making sure the house was searched, however, Thurbers tone in which he describes their dialogue comes off as condescending. Instead of the word hysterical, Thurber has the cop say “historical”; and “nekked” instead of naked. He still has the factor of mockery to authority figures. Grandfather: Although the police seemed to do a good job, the Grandfather confused them. He was not lucid, and jumped to the conclusion that they were deserters, adding chaos once again. As he began to shoot the officer, he became the alpha male, as the cops retreated from the room. His firing of the shots adds a dark humor to the story, and the ending surrounds his ability to fire the gun then go straight to sleep.

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