The Damned Thing (short story)

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For other uses, see The Damned Thing.
The Damned Thing
First separate published edition
Author Ambrose Bierce
Country United States
Language English
Genre Short story
Publication date
1898
Media type Print
ISBN N/A

"The Damned Thing" is a short story written by Ambrose Bierce. It first appeared in Tales from New York Town Topics on December 7, 1893.[1] This story focuses on how the human race takes their views of nature for granted, and how there may be things in the natural world that the human eye cannot see or the human ear cannot hear.

Plot[edit]

"The Damned Thing" is written in four parts, each with a comical subtitle. The story begins in Hugh Morgan's cabin, where local men have gathered around the battered corpse of Hugh Morgan to hold an inquest concerning his death. William Harker, a witness to the death, enters and is sworn in by the coroner to relate the circumstances. William reads a prepared statement about a hunting and fishing outing undertaken with Morgan. He and Morgan encountered a series of disturbances that Morgan referred to as "that damned thing". During the last encounter, Morgan fired his gun in fear, then fell to the ground and cried out in mortal agony. Harker saw his companion moving violently and erratically, while shouting and making disturbing cries. He thought Morgan was having convulsions because he didn't appear to be under attack. By the time Harker reached Morgan, Morgan was dead.

The coroner states that Morgan's diary contains no evidence in the matter of his death. A juror implies that Harker's testimony is symptomatic of insanity, and Harker leaves the inquest in anger. The jury concludes that Morgan was killed by a mountain lion.

The story becomes epistolary in nature, detailing entries from Morgan's diary in which he claims to have experienced things in the natural world that cannot be seen or heard, such as "the damned thing".

Analysis[edit]

"The Damned Thing" deals with how the human race takes the view of the natural world for granted because the human race expects certain things from what only they could see and hear. There are things in the natural world the human eye cannot see and the human ear cannot hear that should evoke the emotion of terror for the human race.

In the story, Morgan states in his diary the human eye is an imperfect instrument because its "range is but a few octaves of the real chromatic scale." Morgan is saying there are colors the human eye cannot see. He uses the example of chemists detecting the presence of actinic rays the human eye is unable to see without the use of scientific instruments. He also states the ear is an imperfect instrument because "either end of the scale are notes that stir no chord in that imperfect instrument, the human ear." He uses examples of him seeing a flock of black birds fly away simultaneously when they could not see each other because of a hill and tree tops. He inferred "there must have been a signal of warning or command, high and shrill above the din" which he did not hear.

Morgan comes to believe these assumptions of humans having imperfect instruments because of his experiences and first hand encounters with things in nature he couldn't explain, like with some of the examples stated above. Also his experience and curiosity with the damned thing lead to Morgan’s assumptions. He knew the damned thing could see certain colors, hear certain things and smell certain things the human race couldn't because of his own observations and inferences about the damned thing he wrote about in his diary. The damned thing has a great advantage over the human race because the damned thing was "of such a color." It could smell, hear and most importantly see things Morgan or any other human being couldn't. This scared Morgan very much because he stated his realization was terrible and insupportable. He thought he was becoming mad.

The 'damned thing' is not further detailed in the story. The damned thing is supposed to be horrific in relation to humans not knowing what it could do or what it will do next. The human race is at a disadvantage because of their imperfect instruments and cannot know what the invisible beast, or what any animal in nature, will do next.

Gothic elements[edit]

Ambrose Bierce

"The Damned Thing" presents a number of Gothic elements throughout the short story. Some of the gothic elements include revealing what culture does not want to tell or admit and spreading social anxieties.

"The Damned Thing" reveals what culture does not want to tell or admit because one of the main premises of the story was to show how the human race takes the view of the natural world for granted because they expect certain things in nature from what only they could see and hear. Culture doesn't want to admit animals have a great advantage over the human race and their "imperfect instruments" because that means the human race can no longer be looked at as the most superior and intelligent life form. The human race can now be seen as a fragile, weak species who is susceptible to any animal in nature.

This revealing realization can also be incorporated into widespread social anxieties because knowing the human race is at disadvantage when it comes to animals, the anxiety of fear and terror can quickly set in. The human race now knows animals could be capable of anything human beings could never detect, see or sense until it's possibly too late.

The story has some similarities with a French story "Le Horla" by Guy de Maupassant, published in 1887, about an invisible, terrible creature, called Horla, perhaps alien or supernatural, intent on conquering the world; in the story, the protagonist complains that we cannot see the Horla because our senses are inadequate.

TV adaptations[edit]

In 1975, Yugoslav director Branko Pleša made a TV movie entitled Prokletinja (Serbo-Croatian for "The Damned Thing") based on the story.[2]

"The Damned Thing" was very loosely adapted into an episode of the television series Masters of Horror.[3] It was inspired by Ambrose Bierce's short story and was directed by Tobe Hooper and written by Richard Christian Matheson. The TV adaptation focuses on an invisible force wreaking havoc on a man's family and town that forces the town members to kill each other and themselves. It first aired on October 26, 2007 with mixed reviews.

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