In Bradbury’s “The Last Night of the World,” a husband and wife prepare for the rapidly approaching end of the world. According to a strange dream they both had—along with seemingly everyone on Earth—the world is going to end that very night. Instead of “screaming in the streets,” however, the husband and wife maintain their quiet nighttime routine, sipping coffee and washing dishes. The short story suggests that, while this may be an act of personal bravery, the couple’s commitment to their routine also reflects a larger problem that may have catalyzed the end of the world in the first place. As the couple’s routine demonstrates, humans are often preoccupied with their own lives, comfort, and immediate communities and consequently fail to do their part as global citizens. The short story argues that individuals must let go of their selfish impulses and do everything in their power to ensure the Earth is a safe, healthy place.
As the story unfolds, it seems like husband and wife are noble and brave for sticking to their routine on the last night of the world. The man thinks that most people will spend their last night “like always” by watching television, listening to music, playing card games, and putting themselves and their children to bed. His wife suggests, “In a way that’s something to be proud of—like always.” Sticking to routine in the midst of what could be chaos shows extraordinary composure and calmness. After putting their daughters to bed, the husband and wife read the newspaper, listen to music, and sit by the fireplace. The only real divergence from their routine is when they put the newly washed dishes “away with special neatness.” It seems that preserving their routine—and even moving through their routine with special effort and care—is an act of quiet bravery and acceptance.
While they may be brave and poised for sticking to their routine, the story implies that this is actually part of the problem, as humans are too focused on their own lives and immediate communities to care about the problems inflicting the world at large. The husband asks his wife, “We haven’t been too bad, have we?” The word “we” refers to the husband and wife as individuals, but it also refers to humanity as a whole. His question, then, is if humans brought the end of the world upon themselves. His wife responds, “No [we haven’t been too bad], nor enormously good. I suppose that’s the trouble—we haven’t been very much of anything except us, while a big part of the world was busy being lots of quite awful things.” She suggests that, in the past, people have been all too focused on their own problems instead of doing their part to help the larger community. Prior to stating that humankind hasn’t been “enormously good,” the wife says that “Nothing else but [the end of the world] could have happened from the way we’ve lived.” In this way, the wife implies that humankind’s selfish, narrow focus formed a direct cause-and-effect relationship with the end of the world. When the husband lists off things he’ll miss about life on Earth, he claims that, besides his family, he’ll really only miss “the change in the weather, and a glass of ice water when it’s hot, and […] sleeping.” Although it’s charming—and somewhat profound—that the man will miss simple pleasures as much as he will his own family, it also reflects a narrow focus on himself. The husband’s list of things he’ll miss implies that he was preoccupied with his own comfort during his lifetime and turned a blind eye to the problems plaguing other parts of the globe, or even his own country or town.
The story argues that, instead of narrowly focusing on their own lives and immediate communities, people should do everything they can to ensure the Earth as a whole is a peaceful and livable place. When the woman tells her husband that there’s nothing they can do to stop the end of the world, he says, “That’s it, of course; for if there were [something we could do], we’d be doing it.” It seems the man has a newfound realization that humans need to do everything in their power to protect and nurture their planet. The realization comes too late for the couple, but not for the reader. Through “The Last Night of the World,” Bradbury implores readers to act not just as individuals dedicated to themselves or their families but as global citizens committed to helping the planet and their larger communities however they can.
Self-Absorption vs. Global Awareness ThemeTracker
Self-Absorption vs. Global Awareness Quotes in The Last Night of the World
“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.”
“We haven’t been too bad, have we?”
“No, nor enormously good. I suppose that’s the trouble—we haven’t been very much of anything except us, while a big part of the world was busy being lots of quite awful things.”
“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 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.