This is a review I wrote my first year of college that was never published. I’ve edited it a bit, but it is essentially the same.
“World War XII, as everybody knows, brought about the collapse of civilization […]”
The quote above does not seem as though it would come from a story of hope. It does. It comes from a story my grandmother gave me on my thirteenth birthday: The Last Flower by James Thurber. I think it may be the shortest book my grandmother has given me since she learned I could read chapter books, but it is the one I hold closest to my heart. It is the only book that contains a moral lesson that I have actually absorbed, and it is only 100 pages long. Of those 100 pages, every other page has a beautiful and simple illustration, and the text amounts to, at most, three lines a page.
The story is of the destruction of civilization by war. In spite of this tragic-seeming message, it is also about how society and civilization can be rebuilt through simple acts of hope, kindness and care.
Don’t be deceived by the illustrations or the length of the book, it is far from a child’s story. It is a lesson in hope and fragility, and to me, a lesson in how people
need to learn look around, learn from their mistakes and take the time out to look at the occasional flower. E. B. White, a friend of Thurber’s said of the book, “In it you will find his faith in the renewal of life, his feeling for the beauty and fragility of life on earth” and I can’t agree more. The story would be nothing
with out its’ simple yet massively expressive illustrations. You see rabbits descending on the “former lords of the earth”, flying with their ears out and angry expressions, down on the pitiful people. The “discouraged and disillusioned” dogs slinking away are perfectly expressive. Even the birds are malevolent. The best sketch of all is that of the one single flower though. It is dying. Bent and sad, yet still hopeful that someone will nurture it back to health. Who hasn’t experienced moments of sadness, when the only things keeping you going are the people around you? Who doesn’t want to read a book that reminds you of that hope, and justifies it?
“This time the destruction was so complete…
That nothing at all was left in the world except
And one woman
And one flower.” – James Thurber, The Last Flower