A Couple Of Hamburgers by James Thurber, 1935
The magic trick:
Discouraging anyone from ever wanting to get married
Yesterday SSMT examined Thurber’s “The Wood Duck,” an odd and oddly nice story about a husband and wife in a car. Today, we have another husband and wife in a car, but the tone in “A Couple Of Hamburgers” couldn’t be farther from “Wood Duck.” This is the kind of story of that besmirches Thurber’s reputation as a dated, mean-spirited misogynist – probably because this story is dated, mean-spirited, and misogynous.
The comedy, if you want to call it that, rests in an ongoing argument between husband and wife as they drive home. Perhaps in its time, this kind of stuff spoke to an audience still a decade away from “The Honeymooners,” and five decades away from “Married With Children.” Maybe they needed an outlet for their society’s peculiar brand of marital propriety/misery. Today, we just get divorced.
The problem with the story, though, is that Thurber makes no attempt to give the wife an equal voice in this argument. All of the criticism and humor plays from the husband’s point of view. Had the wife gotten a few hits in on the husband, the story’s anger may have turned into humor.
As it is, it’s a dismal scene, and one that won’t encourage its readers to cozy up to the idea of nuptial vows any time soon. And I guess, in its way, that’s quite a trick on Thurber’s part.
“It’s right in the town and it sits at an angle from the road. They’re never so good for some reason.” He glared at her and almost ran up against the curb. “What the hell do you mean ‘sits at an angle from the road’?” he cried. He was very hungry now. “Well, it isn’t silly,” she said, calmly. “I’ve noticed the ones that sit at an angle. They’re cheaper, because they fitted them into funny little pieces of ground. The big ones parallel to the road are the best.” He drove right through Torrington, his lips compressed. “Angle from the road, for God’s sake!” he snarled, finally. She was looking out her window.