Thurber's "The Owl Who Was God"
Do not read further in this study guide
until you have read the piece a couple of times. When you've
done that, give some thought to the following questions. Of course
you'll find it useful to return to the text often.
(1) What are some of the things
that strike you as witty and humorous about this little story?
(2) What familiar saying does
Thurber suggest a new twist on when he comes to state a moral for his story?
What do you think is his point in doing so?
(3) If we take into account
the fact that Thurber published this little story at the beginning of the
1940's, what particular situations come to mind as ones that Thurber was
probably expecting his original (American) readership to recognize the
story as pointing to?
(4) Here's a riddle: "What do
Who does the owl stand for?
How about the birds who deify the owl?
What about the animals who are driven out?
How about the animals who drive them out?
What does the parade down the middle of the highway stand for?
What does the truck stand for?
Why is that a weird question?
Suppose we were to rephrase it this way: When we come across an owl
in a piece of fiction that we recognize as a fable, does it always embody,
and stand for, the same qualities?
What traditional qualities associated with owls does Thurber expect his
readers to bring into play in reading his little tale? How does the
story depend on the reader's doing this, for the particular effect Thurber
arranges for the very end? How would you describe this effect?
The German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) once said, "When philosophy
paints its gray in gray, then has an age grown old.... The Owl of Minerva
takes flight only at the close of day." (Minerva was the Roman goddess
of wisdom, the equivalent to Athena in Greek mythology. What else
would we need to know in order to be able to make sense out of Hegel's
(Puzzled? You might find your answer here!)
Review the Haitian folktale "The
Story of Owl" (available at sites 1,
or 5, 6.)
Does the teller of this story assume his audience has the same folk conception
of owls as Hegel does in his remark (and as Thurber plays off of in his
fable for Americans)?
Suggestions are welcome.
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This page last
updated 29 August 2000.