An Analysis of The Thurber Carnival Essay

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An Analysis of The Thurber Carnival

The Fables for Our Time contained in Thurber's The Thurber Carnival are, in my opinion, particularly good examples of a writer successfully 'breaking frames' in order to create humor and satire. In this essay I am going to explore the main methods Thurber uses to create humor and satire in the fables "The Shrike and the Chipmunks" and "The Unicorn in the Garden"2.

Firstly though, what do I mean by the 'broken frame'? This is a reference to the idea that the violation of our 'frames of reference', and the recognition of the incongruity caused by it, is the basic element of humour. If the incongruity needs to be explained, the humour will be lost. Kant expresses this idea when he says
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To be sure, the female chipmunk had not been gone three nights before the male had to dress for a banquet and could not find his studs or shirt or suspenders.5

Both of these fables are part of the 'twist in the tale' tradition. They lead the reader into expecting one type of ending and then provide another, in this case in order to create a humour.

In "The Shrike and the Chipmunks", the lady chipmunk espouses all of those 'old wives' sayings that are generally considered to be commonsensical. "You can't be healthy if you lie in bed all day and never get any exercise," the chipmunk wife tells her husband6. The irony here is that by being forced from his bed the male chipmunk becomes the prey of a shrike. Thurber's twist is that we tend to believe that the wife's advice is right - 'early to bed early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise', but in the chipmunks' case, following this maxim was a death warrant.

The moral at the end provides the final laugh. It is in fact an altered version of the maxim quoted above. "Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy wealthy and dead."7 It is the familiarity of the one, compared with the changed emphasis of the other, that 'breaks the frame' of our experience and provokes our laughter. This is a satirical laugh. The 'new' version of the maxim exposes the unthinking trust we put in a lot of sayings - deserved or not.

"The Unicorn in the Garden" has a similar
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