University Days by James Thurber
In University Days by James Thurber we have the theme of hardship, control, frustration and struggle. Taken from his My Life and Hard Times collection the story is narrated in the first person by Thurber himself and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Thurber may be exploring the theme of hardship. Thurber is woeful when it comes to his botany classes. Rather than his professor understanding that Thurber has bad eyesight. The professor continues to try and get Thurber to see through the microscope. If anything the professor is trying to control Thurber. Which some critics might suggest is the job of a teacher or professor. However Thurber has a genuine aliment. He really is unable to see. There are other classes like economics that Thurber struggles in. Though he is not as bad as Bolenciecwcz. Who apart from his abilities on the football field is not a good student. Thurber also uses ingenuity to pass his classes. An example being getting someone else to wear his number when swimming.
There is also a sense that Thurber is disinterested in most of his classes. He doesn’t really put much effort into his work and the effort he does put in is not good enough. Something that is sure to frustrate his teachers. It may also be a case that Thurber is mocking the military. Not only do all students march the wrong way (with the exception of Thurber) but Thurber can’t allow for the fly to be killed. He is the best student in the class yet he appears to be a pacifist. Something that many readers might find ironic. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Thurber apart from not putting much effort into his studies doesn’t appear to know what he wants to do. He has enrolled in journalism but he does not write anything or research anything. Which may leave some to conclude that Thurber though afflicted with bad eyesight may in fact be lazy.
Thurber is also not slow to call out the intelligence or rather the lack of it when it comes to other students. Notably Bolenciecwcz. In many ways Thurber’s opinion on Bolenciecwcz is stereotypical with many people considering football players to be of a lower intelligence and only in college or university due to their athletic abilities. As a piece of comedy the story is effective as readers will find Thurber’s failures to be humorous. People like laughing at the misfortune of others when comedy is used. However Thurber’s parents might have something to say about their son’s adventures. University costs money and they may not feel as though their money is being well spent. Throughout the story the reader is only given Thurber’s account of what happens. Which may or may not be reliable. Often first person narratives are not reliable.
Thurber never takes into account the faculty members who have to suffer at his hand. They are patient at first but also get frustrated which is understandable. They are after all only human. Though Thurber manages to turn the frustration into something humorous. The fact that Thurber no longer thinks about his days in university may also be significant as he may not necessary be using anything that he learnt in university. It is certain that he has no use for botany and as for military training we know that Thurber has not pursued a career in the military. It wouldn’t be wrong to think that Thurber considered his time in university to be a waste of time. Any skill he may have learnt there, apart from journalism, has been of no use to him. The reader is also left thinking that if Thurber had his way and was not dependent on his parent’s he would have left university and pursued a career in journalism. He would have been happier and he would have saved himself a lot of bother. However as a piece of comedy the story manages to succeed. Though with most comedy there is a serious element and Thurber by writing the story may be having a crack at both his fellow students and his teachers. Waiting till he was in gainful employment to do so. At least then he had something to fall back on. His writing which generally speaking is very good.