My Life in Hard Times: Characterization

My Life in Hard
 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.
Chapter 1: The Night the Bed Fell
Father - the first character introduced besides
Thurber himself. Presented as stubborn. Ends the
“There was no dissuading him” pg 3
Mother - worries about family. Understood through
her hysterical actions and how she responds to
“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.
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
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 retelling 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
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.
“The boys I went to school wtih used to be able to identify every car as it passed by...I never could.”
-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.
“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.
Chapter 2: The Car We Had To Push
“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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Chapter 4: The Night the Ghost Got
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.
Chapter 4: The Night the Ghost Got
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
Chapter 4: The Night the Ghost Got
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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