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I think James Thurber could be considered the bridge between Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut as the premier American humorist. In reading Thurber’s short story, “University Days”, I found much to compare to the other two authors in style and wit. I read this story when I chose the Six of Diamonds for Week 33 of my Deal Me In 2014. My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here. DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
As a student, both in high school and college, I realized that many of us did not think of teachers as actual human beings and; therefore, they were ripe for ridicule. Thurber gets this as he spins a yarn about his days at Ohio State University immediately following World War I. His professors don’t always know what to do with him. His botany class ranks up there as my favorite episode. Unfortunately, at least for the professor, Thurber finds it difficult to see a flower cell through a microscope. Try after try, Thurber finally gets it and excitedly draws what he sees only for the professor to indicate that he has just drawn his own eyeball because he had flipped into “reflect” mode. It could be easy to go literarily deep here and say that this story represents the ability of Thurber to see differently as an artist. However, I think Thurber was just telling a funny story about his college days. I am glad that he went on, though, just like Twain and Vonnegut, to see the world the way he did. In fact, published in 1933, much of this story’s humor comes from Thurber’s ability to see that none of his educational stumbles kept him from being successful. I have a feeling that he was one of those individuals who was blessed to understand this at the time of his education and not just when he looked back years later.
For the record, there was also a time in high school when the idea struck me that teachers made just as much fun of the students.