Nine Needles by James Thurber
In Nine Needles by James Thurber we have the theme of anger, control, fear, courage, patriarchy and embarrassment. Taken from his Let Your Mind Alone collection the story is narrated by Thurber himself and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Thurber may be exploring the theme of anger. Mr Albatross is angry about his wife’s medical intake. He believes that the tablets she is taking are bad for her and though he has asked her to throw them out, she hasn’t. This may be significant as through his anger Mr Albatross is attempting to control his wife. It is as though he knows what is best for her when it comes to taking medicine and is going to force his will on his wife. In fact Mr Albatross gets so angry he throws the medicine cabinet out the bathroom window. Ensuring that he remains in control of the situation though not of himself. Oddly enough Thurber admires Mr Albatross for his actions particularly after he visits his friend’s apartment and encounters difficulties while shaving.
At first he loses two of nine needles and attempts to write a note for his friends. Advising them that there are two stray needles in the bathroom and that they should be careful. However things turn out to be farcical when the contents of the medicine cabinet fall from the cabinet onto the bathroom floor. In haste Thurber finds some iodine and a toothbrush in which he uses to write a note explaining what has happened. Though he does a very bad job of doing so. If anything it becomes clear to the reader that Thurber may feel somewhat embarrassed by what has happened. He also appears to be afraid of what his friends may think of him over the accident that has just occurred. It is this fear of judgement that ensures that Thurber does not really do the right thing and attempt to clean up the contents of the medicine cabinet. He lets himself down in many ways but it is understandable because the fear of what has happened and what his friends may think is overpowering.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The nine needles could represent fear. Fear of not only cutting or injuring oneself while searching for the stray needles but also the fear of trying to explain oneself to a friend as to why they might be rummaging through their medicine cabinet. The cut on Thurber’s ear might also be significant as it is possible that Thurber is suggesting his train of thought or the flow of information has been stunted. He does not hear himself think and as such makes matters worse. The fact that Thurber is injured ensures that he makes more mistakes. Mr Albatross too is important as he represents male patriarchy and the fact that at the time the story was written women where in essence controlled by their husbands. It may be significant that there is no female voice in the story as this would further suggest the domination of men in society.
The end of the story is interesting as there is a sense of panic within Thurber. He leaves a mess in his friend’s bathroom and promises to personally tell them what has happened though fails to have the courage to do so. It is also significant that Thurber’s friends have not contacted him and as such may have re-evaluated their opinion on their friendship with Thurber. A simple cut to his ear has left Thurber without two friends. Whereas if Thurber had been more calculated about his actions things would have been easily resolved. If anything there is a sense of not only panic taking over Thurber but possibly shame too. He may feel ashamed of what has happened and as such is embarrassed to explain matters to his friends. Who in all likelihood would have understood the position that Thurber found himself in. A simple explanation or telephone call to his friends may have alieved his friends concerns over what happened in their bathroom but fear has taken control of Thurber.