James Thurber, “University Days”





JAMES THURBER (1894-1961), a native of Ohio,  was a humorist who wrote often of shy, bumbling men (such as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”). He was also a cartoonist, but he suffered from detiriorating eyesight throughout his life and eventually had to draw his cartoons in crayon on sheets of paper two or three feet wide. For many years he was on the staff of The New Yorker.



1.  What is irony? how is the essay ironic?


2.  Note how Thurber’s word choices heighten the irony in the following phrases:


  • “like falling back full-length on a kit of carpenter’s tools (14)
  • “a genuinely big ‘beat’” (14)
  • “the decline of higher education in the Middle West” (15)


3.  In what ways are Bolenciecwcz and Haskins “stereotyped”?  As what?


4.  Consider the persona of the essay: in what light does Thurber portray himself? Describe him as he presents himself to the reader.


5.  Notice how Thurber draws a scene and introduces bits of revealing dialogue throughout. Note how the essay is based on a series of scenes, each well described.