Although comedy and satire are similar literary styles, they sharply contrast in a few fundamental areas. These fundamental differences are clear in a comparison of the comedic short story The Night the Bed Fell, by James Thurber, and the satiric Marrying Absurd, by Joan Didion. Broadly defined, a comedy can be is a work depicting the uphill struggle and eventual success of a sympathetic hero; usually about ordinary people in difficult but non-life-threatening predicaments. Satire, on the other hand, is a genre that exposes and ridicules human vice and folly. Its characters are usually unsympathetic, often detestable and seldom commendable. Marrying Absurd and The Night the Bed Fell can be contrasted as representatives of their genre s in three areas: their tone, their purpose and their method.
The tone of a comedy is generally light-hearted and entertaining, whereas the tone of a satire is critical and ridiculing. In fact, what most sharply separates comedy from satire is their entertainment quality. In this tradition, through his descriptions of various characters, Thurber clearly sets a lighthearted tone for his comedic short story, The Night the Bed Fell. Thurber makes straightforward characterizations, rather than criticizing his characters for their eccentricity. For example, he describes his Aunt Gracie Shoaf as, having a burglar phobia, but she met it with great fortitude she scared them off before they could take anything by throwing shoes down the hallway. If the author was attempting to satirize his Aunt, he would criticize her for this strange behavior, but rather, he finds amusement in it. Marrying Absurd on the other hand, has a clearly satiric tone. Through her use mellow drama, and exaggeration, Didion clearly communicates her satiric intention. For example, Didion accounts the boastful assertions of a Las Vegas justice of the piece (Mr. Brennan) who prides himself on the fact that he got the marriage ceremony time down from five minutes to three minutes. Surely Didion does not detail Mr. Brennan s self-proclaimed accomplishment because a fast, impersonal ceremony is a desirable thing. Clearly, she is criticizing this debasement of the sacred institution of marriage.
In addition, these stories sharply contrast in their purpose, or desired audience reaction. Marrying Absurd is clearly written to arouse contempt, or at least disapproval for its subject, the Las Vegas marriage. The Night The Bed Fell, however, was written simply to evoke amusement. For example, the absurdity of Thurber s opening line in The Night the Bed Fell is an excellent illustration of his comedic purpose: I suppose the high-water mark of my youth in Columbus, Ohio, was the night the bed fell on my father. Surely, nothing can be seriously concluded from a bed falling on Thurber s father. From the very beginning of his comic sketch, Thurber asserts his purpose. Didion, on the other hand, undoubtedly communicates her disapproval of the Las Vegas assumption that, marriage like craps, is a game to be played when the table seems hot. In her vehement condemnation, Didion conveys the purpose of her social commentary and her expectation that her audience to agree with her opposition. After all, how can readers not be moved or disturbed by a sobbing, under aged, pregnant bride.
Both Marrying Absurd and The Night the Bed Fell intend to evoke an emotional response. However, the desired emotional responses for each piece are different. The author s distinct writing methods or techniques are responsible for readers different emotional responses to each story. The Night the Bed Fell has a distinctly lighthearted feeling partly as a result of Thurber s description, or the style of the descriptions. His writing possesses childlike simplicity and matter-of-factness, which serves to keep his comedy humorous. For example, Thurber describes his mother s odd concern for his father in a casual tone: My mother opposed the notion strongly because she said the heavy headboard would crash down and kill him. Didion s ridiculing and sarcastic adult writing style, on the other hand, reminds readers of the ironic discrepancy between people s expectations of marriage and the reality of marriage. For example, Mr. Brennan ironically states, I could ve married them en masse, but they re people not cattle. People expect more Here, Didion cynically uses Brennan as a symbol of the Las Vegas marriage, which she so clearly detests. In addition, the method in which the authors sequence their narratives helps to define their differences. For example, in the last paragraphs of Marrying Absurd, Didion includes three written wedding snapshots. She describes a drunken showgirl bride in the orange minidress and her expendable nephew bridegroom; actual wedding parties waiting under the harsh lights and the wedding group in the restaurant where the young, pregnant bride cries with pleasure at the niceness of her wedding. Each of these illustrations, arranged in this order of worsening circumstance, serves to contrast the bride s happiness with the reality of her wedding. Clearly, she has mistaken the glitz and cheese of her wedding for a personally momentous ceremony. In The Night the Bed Fell the characters are in an equally absurd situation and are forced to deal with that situation, all the while reciting clever lines for the amusement of the audience. Whereas, the circumstances described in Marrying Absurd become progressively worse, The Night the Bed Fell ends happily: The situation was finally put together like a gigantic jig-saw puzzle.
In conclusion, a comparison of the various elements of each piece of writing, clearly illustrates their differences; differences which may not be apparent after an initial reading of each. Even, in their most basic nature The Night the Bed Fell and Marrying Absurd can be contrasted. One is comedy and one I satire. One serves to ridicule its object and the other has the purpose of pure entertainment. However they are both of equally as enjoyable, if judged keeping the author s tone, purpose and method in mind.