Ray Bradbury’s “The Last Night of the World”

Short Story #49 of 2014

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My annual short story reading project is winding down and yesterday morning I drew the six of Spades, leading me to Ray Bradbury’s story, “The Last Night of the World.” It was one of the shortest (just over four pages in my edition) stories I’ve read this year and, frankly, ultimately one of the most unsatisfying. First published in Esquire Magazine in 1951, it is also a part of his highly acclaimed collection, “The Illustrated Man.”

(Below: the February, 1951 edition of Esquire Magazine)

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This story is the second of those that I’ve read from this collection that deals with how people react to the knowledge that their lives will soon end (The other was “Kaleidoscope,” which I’ve blogged about before). https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/kaleidoscope-by-ray-bradbury/ The reactions of the characters in this story couldn’t be more different than in Kaleidoscope. In “The Last Night of the World” the characters, a married couple with children, have a kind of resigned acceptance of the fact that the world will simply come to an end that night. How they, and everyone else, knows this is a little vague, except they seem to have shared a common dream, wherein the certainty of the end is not in doubt.

The wife speculates, “Do we deserve this?” and he says, “It’s not a matter of deserving; its just that things didn’t work out.” Later she says, “We haven’t been too bad, have we?” and he says, “No, nor enormously good. I suppose that’s the trouble.”

According to this story, the date that the world will end is October 19, 1969. I’m not sure if this is significant and in my brief, “drive-by research” for this post found no explanation. All in all a perplexing story, and not among my favorites by Bradbury.

This one’s actually available online too. Click the link below if you have 5-6 minutes to spare to read it.

http://www.esquire.com/fiction/fiction/ray-bradbury-last-night-of-the-world-0251

(Below: Clint Eastwood in the great movie, “Unforgiven,” echoed Ray Bradbury’s story by telling Little Bill, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it…”)

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2 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    December 8, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Jay! The overall concept sounds like typical Bradbury. I’m glad I chose Kaleidoscope for my 2014 DMI. I know that some of the other ones I chose are also relatively short. I basically went down the table of contents in one of his short story compilations and chose what titles sounded like they might be interesting. We’ll see!
    -Dale

    Like

    • Jay said,

      December 9, 2013 at 1:04 pm

      Hi Dale,
      You’ll enjoy Kaleidoscope, I think. For this story, I think most of the heavy lifting is expected to be done by the reader. Bradbury supplies the scaffolding around a story and you have to fill it in…
      -Jay

      Like


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