The Last Night of the World


Ray Bradbury

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The Last Night of the World Summary

Pouring himself a cup of coffee, a man asks his wife what she would do if she knew that it was “the last night of the world.” He can hear his two little girls playing with blocks in the parlor. His wife says she hasn’t really thought about it, and he tells her to start thinking. Anxiously, she asks if it’s war, a nuclear bomb, or germ warfare. He says it’s none of these—more of a “closing of a book.” He has a “feeling” about the end of the world, which sometimes frightens him and sometimes makes him feel at peace.

The man admits that four nights ago, he had a dream in which a voice told him that the world was about to end—that “things would stop here on Earth.” At work later that day, he saw a coworker named Stan Willis gazing out the window. When the man asked Stan what was the matter, Stan told him about a peculiar dream he had the night before. As it turns out, both men had the exact same dream—as did many other people in the office. The woman asks her husband if she actually believes that the dream is true, and he is certain that it is. She asks when the world will stop, and he says that the world will stop in the middle of the night for them, but it will take a full twenty-four hours for it to stop everywhere. The man asks his wife why she’s accepting everything he’s saying and not arguing. She tentatively says that she also had the dream last night. Earlier today, she heard the women in the neighborhood talking about the same dream, but she thought it was just a coincidence.

The man asks his wife if she’s scared, and she says she’s not, which is surprising because she “always thought” she would be. The man wonders why there seems to be no “spirit of self-preservation,” and his wife suggests that when circumstances are logical, there’s no point in getting worked up about them. She says that considering the way they’ve lived, “nothing else but this could have happened.” The man doesn’t think they’ve been all that bad, but his wife reminds him that they also haven’t been “enormously good.” They’ve been focused on themselves while the rest of the globe was grappling with “lots of quite awful things.”

The couple hears the girls laugh from the other room. The man says the only thing he’ll really miss is his daughters and his wife, along with a few simple pleasures. He says he’s never really liked his job or the city, so he won’t miss those. He asks his wife how they’re able to calmly discuss the end of the world, and she says there’s nothing else they can do. He agrees, claiming that “if there were, we’d be doing it.” They wonder how other people are spending their last night and figure that people are watching television, playing cards, and going to sleep “like always.” The woman thinks this ability is something to be proud of.

The man asks why the world has to end on this particular night—why couldn’t it have ended last century or even ten centuries ago? His wife suggests that maybe it’s because it’s never been October 19, 1969 until today. Now that it is, and things are exactly as they are all around the world, the world must end. The man says that at this very moment, there are bomber aircrafts flying overseas that will never reach land. His wife says that’s partially why the world is ending.

For the rest of the evening, the couple carries on like normal. They wash the dishes, though they put them away with “special neatness,” and say goodnight to their daughters. The leave the girls’ bedroom door ajar, so they can see the light coming through. The woman wonders if the girls know about the end of the world, but her husband thinks that’s impossible. The couple spends a few hours listening to the radio, reading the paper, and sitting by the fire.

At 11:30 P.M., the two get ready for bed. The man kisses his wife, and she tells him, “We’ve been good for each other, anyway.” He asks if she wants to cry, and she says she doesn’t think so. They both get up and turn off the lights around the house. When they finally get into bed, they comment about how “clean and nice” the sheets are.

Suddenly, the wife jolts out of bed and leaves the room. When she returns moments later, she tells her husband that she had left the faucet running in the kitchen and just went to turn it off. Her husband starts laughing, and so does she, “knowing what it was that she had done that was so funny.” They settle back into bed and hold hands, and each say goodnight.