In “The Last Night of the World,” a husband and wife come to terms with the impending end of the world—which, according to an ominous dream they both had, will happen that very night. The husband and wife initially give in to denial, obviously not wanting the dream to be true. However, this coping mechanism proves unproductive, unsatisfying, and even isolating, as it keeps the couple from being able to grapple with the situation together. Charting the husband and wife’s evolution, the short story argues that although acceptance is often scary, it ultimately can lead to a sense of peace.
Using the husband and wife as examples, the story shows that denial is an unproductive and unsatisfying way to handle problems. Even though she, too, has had the ominous dream about the end of the world, the woman feigns innocence when her husband asks her, “What would you do if you knew that this was the last night of the world?” At first, she asks her husband if he’s serious, and when he confirms that he is, she lies and says, “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought.” The woman is in denial that her dream is true, and she also denies that she’s given the end of the world any thought. This only stalls the conversation and keeps the couple from being able to talk openly about the end and what they mean to one another. In addition, because the husband doesn’t immediately tell his wife about his dream (which he experiences three days before she does), the wife doesn’t realize the significance of her own dream when it happens. This means that her own suspicions go unconfirmed for several days, keeping her from actually grappling with the dream’s implications.
In addition, denial only increases fear and makes people feel isolated. Not wanting to believe her dream—and confirm its validity by bringing it up to her husband as a serious concern—the wife is forced to turn to the other women in the neighborhood instead of her own husband. Even then, the woman thinks “it was only a coincidence” that other women on the block had the same dream. The woman is quick to deny the truth of the situation, which also keeps her from engaging deeply with the other women and talking about the implications of the dream.
Ultimately, the story argues that accepting one’s situation, though frightening, can actually bring a sense of peace, and with it the ability to move forward. When the man tells his coworker Stan Willis that he had the same dream, Stan “didn’t seem surprised. He relaxed, in fact.” For Stan, there is comfort in knowing that his coworker had “the same dream, with no difference,” because it confirms the reality of the situation and allows him to come to peace with it. A few days later, the wife tells her husband, “You don’t get too excited when you feel things are logical. This is logical. Nothing else but this could have happened from the way we’ve lived.” Like Stan, once the woman fully confronts the indisputable reality of the situation, she feels calm and assured rather than frantic. When the woman asks her husband how he thinks everyone else will spend their last night, he says, “Go to a show, listen to the radio, watch television, play cards, put the children to bed, go to bed themselves, like always.” This is exactly how the husband and wife spend their last night—knowing that there is nothing they can do to change the course of events, the couple accept their fate and manage to have a quiet, pleasant, otherwise-normal evening.
In “The Last Night of the World,” Bradbury highlights how denial is unproductive and isolating, whereas acceptance can be freeing. In this way, Bradbury encourages his readers to face their challenges head on. Even though accepting the reality of one’s problems may seem scary and daunting, denying that the problem exists only exacerbates anxiety.
Denial and Acceptance ThemeTracker
Denial and Acceptance Quotes in The Last Night of the World
“What would you do if you knew that this was the last night of the world?”
“What would I do? You mean seriously?”
“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought.”
“Well, better start thinking about it.”
“Sometimes it frightens me, sometimes I’m not frightened at all but at peace. […] I dreamed that it was all going to be over, and a voice said it was; not any kind of voice I can remember, but a voice anyway, and it said things would stop here on Earth.”
“Where’s that spirit called self-preservation they talk so much about?”
“I don’t know. You don’t get too excited when you feel things are logical. This is logical. Nothing else but this could have happened from the way we’ve lived.”
“I wonder what everyone else will do now, this evening, for the next few hours.”
“Go to a show, listen to the radio, watch television, play cards, put the children to bed, go to bed themselves, like always.”
“In a way that’s something to be proud of—like always.”
“Why do you suppose it’s tonight?”
“Why not some other night in the last century, or five centuries ago, or ten?”
“Maybe because it was never October 19, 1969, ever before in history, and now it is and that’s it; because this date means more than any other date ever meant; because it’s the year when things are as they are all over the world and that’s why it’s the end.”
“There are bombers on their schedules both ways across the ocean tonight that’ll never see land.”
“That’s part of the reason why.”
“I wonder […] If the door will be shut all the way, or if it’ll be left just a little ajar so some light comes in.”
“I wonder if the children know.”
“No, of course not.”
“I left the water running in the sink,” she said.
Something about this was so very funny that he had to laugh.
She laughed with him, knowing what it was that she had done that was funny.