An element American Humorist, James Thurber, writes the extremely amusing story “The Day the Dam Broke” with a personal touch, Thurber has described an incident of great panic and disorder which the residents of his native town had to experience in March 1913. The panic was caused by a rumor about the collapse of a dam built on the river that flowed through theColumbusTown. The description indicates that Thurber possessed wonderful power of observation and great knowledge of human nature and psychology. He has also shown us the individual as well as collective reaction of peope in the critical situation.
Summary of the Chapter
Thurber begins the article by telling us that on 12th March 1913, life in the town was quite normal and peaceful. The routine activities of the citizens were in progress. The market place of the town was as usual crowded and noisy. All of a sudden, there started a panic in the market, which spread all over the town within no time. A large number of people started running at full speed towards the eastern part of the town, screaming and shouting in great fight, “Go east! Go east! The dam has broken”.
The author says that his grandfather in particular grew extremely nervous, confused and scared. Other family members too, were in great panic. Along with other people of the locality, the author’s family started in a hurry towards the eastern part of the town in order to reach a safer place. All of them wanted to go as far from the riverbank as possible. People were so much nervous and frightened that they left their houses in great hurry. They left stoves burning, food cooking and doors wide open. In a very short time, the entire western part of the town was deserted.
Maliory, a Lt Col of the Army, an old woman in theatre and the author’s aunt, Edith Taylor Dr Mallory was frightened by the sizzling sound produced by the Skate-Wheels of a little boy who was running behind the doctor on roller-skates. Long after the panic had subsided, the doctor remained in terror for years.
The author says that the civil authorities took prompt measures to remove the fear, control the panic and restore peace and order in the disturbed area. Soldiers in motor-lorries spread all over the affected area carrying mega-phones. They began to announce, “The Dam has not broken”.
The scared, agitated and confused crowd misunderstood the announcement and got the impression that the militiamen were confirming the disaster by declaring. “The dam has not broken”. Naturally, the impression increased the panic and harassment. This is the climax of the ridiculous situation and height of humor.
At last, people were made to realize their foolishness and it was revealed to them that the dam was intact and safe and there was no reason for panic and horror. They started returning home sheepishly and ashamed for their folly. The next day, life inColumbusTownbecame normal. It seemed as if nothing had happened in the town, the previous day but there was no joking at all because almost all the citizens ofColumbusTownfelt equally ashamed of their foolish behavior.