The Birth of Flash Fiction

The Birth of Flash Fiction
A Critical Analysis of
of James Thurber’s Short Piece
The Little Girl and the Wolf
( read the story )

by Thomas Jay Rush

James Thurber’s short piece The Little Girl and the Wolf is not very well written. The piece is extremely short – which to me means that it must be pitch perfect. I think one of the most important things about a very short piece (something that in these days has come to be known as flash fiction) is that it must be near perfect. The particular piece of writing I consider here is not very good in my opinion. I think the word choice is poor, I think there are logical errors and I think the ending lacks any semblance of subtlety.

Concerning word choice I think Thurber could have easily chosen his words more carefully. For example, in the first sentence he uses the words “a big wolf”. How dull. Like what, James? Like a big-bad wolf? Why not use big-bad? At least big-bad has some lyricism to it. Just “big” is truly dull. Another example (and trust me, finding two examples of poor word choice in a piece this short makes the point) is when Thurber says that the girl “approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed”. What does “approaching no nearer than….from” something even mean?

A second area of weakness in this piece is that it contains a few logical errors or omissions. These are not glaring mistakes, the omissions are more subtle than that, but mistakes like this are troublesome in such a short piece. When I read I want my mind to stay in the world of the piece. I do not want my thoughts thrown out of the piece while I have to contemplate what the writer meant. The first example of this sort of shortcoming is when Thurber says that the wolf was waiting for “a little girl to come along, carrying a basket of food to her grandmother.” When I read that my mind came out of the piece while I considered why a wolf would be waiting for such a specific event. Why wouldn’t the wolf just position himself in the path and take what comes? Why would the wolf wait for a little girl….carrying a basket…..and going to her grandmother’s? It just makes no sense. Another logical error appears when Thurber says “the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him.” Why would the little girl do this? Normally, I wouldn’t bother pointing these simple things out, but in a case like this, where the piece is so excessively short, I think these types of logical errors must be entirely removed.

The third, and final, shortcoming of this piece is the abrupt ending. An ending that completely lacks any sort of subtlety. The ending comes across as if a rather simple minded 15 year old boy wrote it (the piece first appeared in The New Yorker on January 21, 1939 – when Thurber was 45 years old). Thurber lets on that he doesn’t suspend his disbelief in the sentence where he says “for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother…” The very next sentence, and the sentence that ends the piece, is about the girl shooting the wolf by pulling a machine gun out of her basket. Then the silly, trite moral to the story. It all comes across as Mr. Thurber polishing his fingernails on his shirt and saying “Aren’t I cute?” No James, you’re not cute. You’re 45 years old. You can do better than that.

I haven’t read a lot of Mr. Thurber’s work – but I’ve always loved him – because of the story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I remember, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, reading some of Mr. Thurber’s stories. I remember in particular his drawings. He was very charming and I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for him, but – if I find more pieces like this of his, my heart my grow harder. Sorry, James. I loved ye once upon a time.

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