This short-short story, published in the February 1951 issue of Esquire, shows Bradbury’s particular feel for folks who find themselves in an unexpected and off-kilter world. Reading like a script for a radio drama, “The Last Night of the World” tells of a husband and wife about to turn in for the night—and for eternity.
Each discovers that they and everyone they know have been having the same eschatological dream. The world is coming to an end, not with a bang or even a whimper. When they go to sleep tonight, they will simply never wake up again.
Written in the shadow of atomic bomb tests and mushroom clouds, the story taps into the anxiety that swept through the collective consciousness of the early 1950s. But in true Bradbury style, the end comes gently, like maybe an overdose of sleeping pills. No hysteria, no grisly disasters, catastrophes, or cataclysms. Just put out the lights.
I thought of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia as I read this one. There is at the end of that film the same calm acceptance of the end of all things. It’s a chilling fantasy that is also strangely comforting. Who knows what Lars was thinking, but I think I can guess what Bradbury had in mind.
It’s just a story, he would say. And yet it’s not. We all die, and the night will surely come that we never wake from. Until then, be gentle to each other and kind to yourself. Above all, be here now. Don’t miss a minute of your sweet life.
“The Last Night of the World” is currently available online here. For more comments on Ray Bradbury, click over to Patti Abbott's blog.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Coming up: Alice Harriman, A Man of Two Countries (1910)