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Various Essays on James Thurber´s "The Unicorn in the Garden"


 
Who is mad ?

Thurber criticizes the matter-of-fact world

Is the husband a drug-taker?

Does the man plan to make his wife crazy with his absurd story ?

Cleverness succeeds

The fable is full of lies and intrigues

The fable is full of symbols and a warning to us


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Who is mad ?

thurber3.jpg (10583 Byte)The fable "The Unicorn in the Garden" written in 1939 by James Thurber (1894 – 1961) is about a woman who thinks her husband is crazy, but later on she is the one who is thought to be mad. The man wakes his wife up because he saw an unicorn in their garden. After telling him that he is a "booby" the woman calls the police and the psychiatrist. When the police arrive they ask the man whether the story about the unicorn is true. He answers that the unicorn is a mythical beast. So the police and psychiatrist think that his wife is the one who is crazy and take her away.
What is different about this fable that it is not – as fables usually are – about animals. A fable is a traditional short story that teaches a moral lesson. But the main characters in this fable are a man and a woman. Even though it is made obvious who is crazy, I think it is the man because mad people are often intelligent and not responsible for their actions. At the beginning the man behaves weirdly, but in the end he denies the story his wife told the police.
The moral of the fable is: "Don’t count your boobies until they are hatched." This means that things you do which are bad for someone else, in the end often turn out to be bad for yourself. I think there could be a better moral for this story, for example:" You’ve got to watch you don’t fall into your own trap." I think this moral expresses more clearly what the author actually wants to say.
The first time I read this fable I found it quite hard to understand who is the crazy person in this story. At the beginning of the text it is not clear who is the mad one, because it looks as if the man is crazy, but at the end one could think it is the woman. I like the story, because the more I thought about this story the more interesting it was to me. (M.S. , 11d, 2004)

 

Thurber criticizes the matter-of-fact world

thurber-unicorn1.jpg (9814 Byte)This fable written by James Thurber is about a couple and their unexpected "meeting" with the unicorn. Sitting in the house and having breakfast a man sees a unicorn in his garden. He wants to wake up his wife, but she is angry about disturbing her. After talking to the unicorn the man tries to wake her up again. She does not believe him and he leaves the house. As she has not seen a unicorn in the garden she calls the police and a psychiatrist in order to send her husband to a mental institution. In the presence of the police and the the doctor the husband denies having seen a unicorn. So the wife is taken to the mental institution.
First of all this story is a fable, but it has some fairy-tale features. The first and the last sentence are typical sentences of fairy tales. Obviously it is a fable, because the story has a moral at the end. We can find another hint: An animal that is able to speak. So one can say that this story is a mixture of a fable and a fairy-tale. The moral can be seen as a criticism of Thurber`s world. The unicorn stands for something fantastic shown by the unicorn´s colors white and gold. The man and the woman stand for two different opinions. On the one hand we have the man who is willing to accept the unicorn and the fantasy world, on the other hand there is the woman who represents prejudice against anything fantastic. She believes in institutions (police and psychiatrist). This can be seen as the author`s moral intention.
This story is also a story of a bad marriage. This can be proved by looking at their conversation. Although they speak about the same subject they do not understand each other. The husband sees and feeds the unicorn and she thinks it is a "mythical beast". The man refers to the unicorn as "he" and she says "it". He wants to share his delight and emotions but she refuses. When she wants to send him to a mental hospital he turns the case by quoting her in an ironical way. So in the end they are separated.
I like the story because Thurber criticizes the matter-of-fact world and shows in a humorous way how one can leave his wife. (F.P., 11d, 2004)

 

Is the husband a drug-taker?

In the fable "The Unicorn in the Garden" written by James Thurber there is a man who sees a unicorn in his garden. He feeds it with lilies and goes to his wife to tell her about the appearance. But she thinks he is crazy and offends him. Then he goes back, but the unicorn is away, so sits among the roses and goes to sleep. After her husband has gone out of the house she phones the police and the psychiatrist. In the house she tells them what her husband has told to her. But they do not believe her and subdue her in a strait jacket, because they think she is crazy. When the man comes back they ask him, whether he has told his wife something about a unicorn in a garden. Because he denies they take her away and shut her up in an institution.
Now I have three theses about that what the author wants to tell us. The first is that women always
have to be friendly to their husbands, else they will tell them a crazy story, so they will end up in a booby-hatch.
The second is that if a man wants his wife to be taken away, he has to be a good liar, because in the story the man knows the truth. Therefore he must have lied, either to his wife or to the police when they asked him.
The last thesis is that drugs are bad things. People will see crazy things, but they will not remember them.
Maybe the man never had a wife and the whole story is his dream. I think if the story has any sense then it is too curious that I cannot understand it or it is a joke between James Thurber and a friend. Else there is no sense. But after all I like the story, although it is as crazy as the person it is telling about and although the moral does not suit it. The story is funny, because who sleeps among roses after feeding a unicorn? And what a silly person is a wife who phones the police because of her husband´s tale about a unicorn. Whether it is a curious and crazy story or not, we have to think about and try to understand it.  (R.M.-Z., 11d, 2004)

 

Does the man plan to make his wife crazy with his absurd story ?

There´s a unicorn in the garden!The fable "The Unicorn in the Garden" by James Thurber is about a man who tells his wife that a unicorn is in the garden eating roses. The woman calls the police and a psychiatrist to send him to a booby hatch but in the end the story is different.
One sunny morning a man sees a white unicorn with a golden horn eating roses in the garden. Positively excited he goes upstairs to tell the woman. The woman being in a very bad mood, barks at the man being a booby and sending him to a booby hatch. The man returns to the garden but the unicorn has gone away. After the man has gone out, the woman calls the police and a psychiatrist. She tells them the story of the unicorn but instead of putting the man in a booby hatch they take the woman with them. The man who alleges to know nothing about that lives happier than before.
Maybe the man in the story is a little bit crazy because of his story with the unicorn in the garden. It is not normal to tell everyone about your appearances of this kind. On the other hand he could be perfidious, because he wants to make his wife crazy with his absurd story. Perhaps he can imagine what will happen if the woman some day believes his stories and tells them somebody else. Possibly he tells her such kind of stories every day so that she goes nutty. But the woman is very perfidious, too, because she is only waiting for a chance to send the man to a booby hatch.
With his fable the author of "The Unicorn in the Garden" wants to make clear the moral "Don´t count your boobies until they are hatched!". I think the man in the story is very clever, because the woman is an unfriendly person with bad intentions against the man. Therefore he can imagine how the woman will react to the story about the unicorn. I think the moral fits the woman because she counts the booby (the man) before it is hatched.
I like the story because of the cleverness and the black humour of the man.  (V.N., 11d, 2004)

 

Cleverness succeeds

The fable ‘The Unicorn in the Garden’ written by James Thurber is about a woman whose husband sees a unicorn in their garden. After waking up his wife and telling her about the unicorn she coldly explains that a unicorn is a mythical beast and calls him a booby. As soon as her husband has left her alone, she calls the police and a psychiatrist but they think she is the crazy one. When her husband comes into the house again, he tells the police that a unicorn is a mythical beast. Now it is the wife who is taken away.

‘The Unicorn in the Garden’ by James Thurber is not a typical fable. A typical fable is a short text about animals and they are shown as human characters, who can speak and act and who represent different human types. Moreover there is always a moral at the end of fables, which teaches a lesson. In this fable you can also find a moral at the end of the text: "Don’t count your boobies until they are hatched." But the big difference is that humans, not animals, are the protagonists in the story: A woman tries to get her husband into trouble, but has to learn that she is mistaken (see moral).

You´re a booby!The man is the cunning person in this fable and not the woman. At the beginning of the fable he tells his wife that he can see a unicorn in the garden. She does not seem to be as excited as her husband and reacts quite coldly and bored. But as soon as she is alone she calls the police and a psychiatrist to set a trap for her husband, as it is probably not the first time that he told her something like that and maybe she does not like him any more. When her husband comes back into the house, the police is still there and they think the woman is crazy. They ask him if it is right that he told his wife he saw a unicorn. He gave the police the same answer as his wife had given him: "The unicorn is a mythical beast." He probably knew that his wife would call the police and he left the house so that she could do it. And when he came back into the house, he saw that everything went according to his plan. Now his wife is in an institution and he can live his life happily.

The relationship between the woman and the man is not working. The woman has been waiting a long time for the moment to get rid of her husband. And when he tells her the story about the unicorn it is the right time for her and she calls the police and a psychiatrist as soon as she is alone. The man acts similarly but his plan is better than his wife’s plan. He knows that if he tells her a story about a unicorn and leaves her alone for a couple of minutes she will call the police. And he is right!

I like the fable ‘The Unicorn in the Garden’ by James Thurber, because when I started to read this story I was quite sure that the man was the crazy one. But I was astonished how his wife reacted, for instance that she called the police and a psychiatrist, although she seemed to love her husband. But at the end of the story I was surprised to find out that the man was not crazy. It seems as if he clearly knew how his wife would react when he told her about the unicorn. It is fascinating how clever the man acted to get rid of his wife.   (T.S., 11d, 2004)

 

The fable is full of lies and intrigues

The man is a good actor, because his wife believes that he saw a unicorn in the morning. First she does not believe him that he saw a unicorn, which ate roses and a lily. But later on she is not really sure if her husband’s story is true or not and because of that she calls the police and the psychiatrist. I think he is a really good actor because his wife calls the police and the psychiatrist because of the unicorn. This means that she believed him a little bit and that she is worried about him.
He wants to be alone. The wife is getting on his nerves with her coldness and her very unfriendly way to talk with him. The man wants to say something to his wife and after he wakes her up, she opens ‘one unfriendly eye’, says something and turns ‘ her back on him’ (line 4 in the fable). For a long time he has been so annoyed with his wife that he is telling her this lie. Because of this lie about the unicorn she is taken away by the police and shut up in an institution.
I think both, the man and the woman, are wicked because the man tells his wife a lie to confuse her hoping that she calls the police. Later he can deny the statement of his wife and if he is lucky she is shut up in an institution.The wife is very wicked, because after her husband has told her something about the unicorn she calls the police and the psychiatrist behind her husband´s back. Perhaps she hopes that her husband will be taken away into a booby hatch and then she will be alone and will no longer have problems with him ever again.
I think that the whole fable is full of lies and intrigues of the married couple. I have the feeling that both, the man and the woman, are tired of their relationship and try to get rid of their partner. Maybe it is better for both if they get a divorce. Surely lies and intrigues are the wrong way!  (S.B., 11d, 2004)

 

The fable is full of symbols and a warning to us

I think the wife is a very disagreeable person. Of course, her first reaction is in some kind understandable, because it is no every-day situation that someone tells you there is a unicorn in your garden. But I think she could have trusted her husband after his second assurance, because she knows him very well and should be able to trust him blindly. And if she is not able to do this she should at least not call him a “booby”. In my opinion, this behaviour is also forgivable. What is no longer forgivable is the fact that she seems to be so eager to get rid of her husband and that she calls the police and the psychiatrist. But the man is also strange. His role seems to be clear through the whole story. He saw the unicorn and his wife does not believe him. He even tries to talk to the unicorn. So he seems to be simple-minded in some kind. All the more his behaviour at the end of the fable is surprising. He refuses to admit having ever told his wife about a unicorn in their garden. I think it is really difficult to define for what kind of people the man stands in this fable because he is not so stereotypical. His wife is much easier to put into a category. She is selfish and not trustworthy. I think she stands for the mass of people in our world who are only anxious for their own success and who forgot about sympathy and consideration.

Beside these persons symbols are very important in this fable. The most important one is, of course, the unicorn. In the western mythology this fantastic being is a symbol for chastity and the attribute of Mary. This coincides with the other symbols, the flowers. The first flower the unicorn eats is a rose and roses are also an attribute of Mary. They stand for the paradise, for discretion and mysteries and for a clear mind (only red roses are a symbol of love and affection and in the fable nothing is said about the colour of the roses). The lily with which the man fed the unicorn is a symbol for faith, purity and innocence. And tulips as spring flowers stand for life. All these meanings of the flowers and the unicorn fit so well together. The whole image seems to stand for a wonderful scene that only the credulous man can see. It is very important that the unicorn, the white unicorn, eats the white lily, maybe the purest of all flowers, out of the man’s hand. And if you take this into consideration the behaviour of the man is no longer confusing. He wanted to share this moment of perfection with his wife and she refused. After the unicorn was gone he could not mention this experience to the police or the psychiatrist without spoiling its purity. And of course, the rose is the flower of discretion.

I think this rather amusing fable about the unicorn in the garden is a really good one, because it makes you think about it. After all James Thurber wants to warn us not to be to selfish because we could miss wonderful times and will only bring damage to ourselves.  (K.B., 11d, Dec 2006)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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