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The Leader Speaks: Praising the Folly Essay


There will never be a consensus about fables – people either hate them or love them. While it is hard to deny the fact that fables have teeth-grindingly obvious moral that is shoved in the reader’s face at the end of the story (Fogarty and Stoehr), most fables still find an original and entertaining way to convey these morals (Barbauld and Hale 25) – especially the fables by James Thurber.

Known mostly for his short story titled “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Thurber wrote a number of unique fables, one of which, “The Owl Who Was God,” is the subject of the given paper.

There is nothing ordinary about The Owl Who Was God – even the title of the fable is surreal enough to make the reader puzzled. Opening in a standard once-upon-a-time manner, the story tells about an owl that was mistaken for God, since it could see in the darkness, unlike the rest of the animals.

Furthermore, everything that the owl said or did was considered genial. Hence, all forest inhabitants started seeking its wisdom: “‘Can you give me another expression for ‘that is to say’ or ‘namely’?’ asked the secretary bird. ‘To wit,’ said the owl. ‘Why does the lover call on his love?’ ‘To woo,’ said the owl” (Thurber).

When the owl appeared in front of the animals in the broad daylight, however, it was blinded by the sun. Leading the animals and birds to a concrete highway, it could not see the approaching car and was killed by it along with most of the animals. Though the plot is seemingly simple, it still has a number of underlying ideas and implications for the readers to explore.

Like in many other short stories, the size does not allow to develop the characters, the plot and the setting equally; therefore, some of the elements of The Owl Who Was God stand out even with such ridiculous idea as a plot for the story. However, choosing the element that has been taken to the highest degree seems rather hard, since each of these elements serves its purpose in the story perfectly; once at least one of them is taken out, the story evidently loses a great chunk of fun.

For example, the story is narrated in a very concise manner, yet Thurber somehow manages to tell the audience a lot of details; for example, the reader learns instantly a lot about the forest and the way it looks (“They could not believe it was possible for anyone to see them in that thick darkness,” Thurber).

However, there is just as much about the character development – Thurber shows in a very graphic way how fast the forest creatures start believing that the owl is a godsend and tells in graphic details about their final revelation (“He’s God!,” Thurber) and the tragic aftermath.

Finally, the story is also developed very well. Therefore, the choice between the three is rather complicated. However, there are two elements that stand out the most, i.e., the irony and the satire. It is clear from the very start that Thurber offers a parody on human society; however, there is not a single direct reference to people’s culture except for the concept of God.

Thus, the satire works in the context of the given story. Irony is also there; every single line that one of the characters say can be interpreted as an ironic comment on people’s tendency to follow a certain trend blindly: “’Aren’t you afraid?’ he asked. ‘Who?’ said the owl calmly, for he could not see the truck. ‘He’s God!’ cried all the creatures again” (Thurber).

As a matter of fact there is a line in the story that offers a very unique comment on the human race: “So they followed him wherever he went and when he bumped into things they began to bump into things, too” (Thurber). Thurber expressed his idea about fads that people follow blindly without even questioning the purpose of these fads in the given line.

In addition, Thurber makes an important statement about the people who are attracted to a certain person or concept – as a rule, when being completely in love with their new fad, people lose the ability to critically evaluate things (Magstadt 116). Thus, when their leader starts bumping into things and face the obstacles that could have been easily avoided, the followers repeat the leader’s mistakes instead of choosing their own life track.

Like any other writer, Thurber wrote in his own manner, which means that the style of “The Owl Who Was God” has a lot to do with Thurber’s another famous novel, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” First, both novels revolve around people or a person seeing something that is not true.

Secondly, neither of the novels shows that the character has undergone a transformation – as well as the animals who worshipped Owl until the very end, Walter Mitty does not show any sign of changing his ways in the end. Finally, both novels tell the story of small people (or animals, for that matters) who try to become something grandeur, like the pilot of a Navy hydroplane or even God.

Works Cited

Barbauld, Anna L. and Sarah J. B. Hale. Things by Their Right Names, and other Stories, Fables and Moral Pieces. Boston, MA: Marsh, Capen, Lyon and Webb, 1840. Print.

Fogarty, Robin and Judy Stoehr. Integrating Curricula with Multiple Intelligences. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2007. Print.

Magstadt, Thomas M. Understanding Politics. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2012.

Thurber, James. The Owl Who Was God. n. d. Web.

Thurber, James. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, n. d. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Leader Speaks: Praising the Folly." April 25, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-leader-speaks-praising-the-folly/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Leader Speaks: Praising the Folly'. 25 April.

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