In Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Last Night of the World,” the audience follows an interaction between a couple over the last night of the world. At first, the husband softly asks the wife about what she would do were it the final night. The wife responds with little certainty, and the man reveals that he knows that the world is about to stop. He explains that he had a dream that told him the world was about to stop, and while he thought nothing of it at first, finding out that his coworker had the same dream prompts him to go ask around his office, only to find out that everyone there too had the same dream. The wife, reactionless, explains that she too has had the same dream, as have the rest of the women. The two talk about what they will do and ponder why the world is stopping. They do not stress however, deciding there is nothing to be done, so they continue life as usual, doing typical mundane things, realizing that the world has had this coming for a long time. The couple ensures that they have cleaned up and turned everything off before going to bed together. They sleep, and we are left to wonder whether or not the world really ended.
Despite being a very short story, I felt that it was actually really captivating due to the tone that the piece carries. Throughout the story, we are shown the emotionless reactions of the couple to the idea that it is the last night of the world. The couple remains calm, even though the end of the world would surely cause panic. This emotionless tone is carried throughout the piece through the major use of dialogue and the specific word choice / attention to detail. Because the majority of the piece is dialogue, the piece feels very slow paced. Readers do not get much imagery of action, making the room seem still as they spoke. The actions that were included are basic and minimal actions. The gentle pouring of the tea contributes the calm serenity. Saying that the world will stop rather than end also contributes to this sensation. The lack of calamity and the excess calmness can make the reader care, as they feel like there should be some reaction other than “oh well”.
Two things from this story that we could incorporate into our writing include –
Character Attitude (green) – The dialogue of these characters is very calm. There is never a moment of heightened tension, nor is there any moment of panic. Surprisingly, this makes the piece feel tense, as if something could happen at any moment in time. Playing around with a character’s attitude like this can help us improve the way we create a feeling for our story. Usually in writing, the typical common response is used to support the mood and tone. However, in this piece, the contradiction of the tone and the character response to the situation is shown to be more effective.
Word Choice in Action and Setting (yellow) – Throughout the piece, small, peaceful wording is used. These choices further contribute to the tense feeling of the story. The story reads like it takes place in a library: silent and eerie. Perhaps it’s just me, but when I read a story sometimes I like to have a soundtrack based on the action. This story has no soundtrack. You can hear every breath or tap of the finger. The use of calm descriptors during something usually associated with calamity again proves that perhaps sometimes, juxtaposition can work better than just giving exposition.
- Do you think the world really stopped?
- How did you visualize the scene as you read through the story?
- Would you describe the story as tense? Or does it seem perfectly natural to not care about the end of the world?