Henry Bemis loves to read. The only problem is that he can find neither the time nor the place to enjoy his pastime. At work, his boss has let him know in no uncertain terms that he is not to read during working hours. At home, his shrewish wife won't even let him read a newspaper, let alone a book. One day, he sneaks down to the vault in the bank's basement to read a bit and suddenly, there is a huge explosion above. He emerges to find the world destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. He does find books from the library and he sees a great deal of reading time ahead of him. Except for one small unintended event. Written by
Mr. Bemis expects to live "years and years and years" post-attack. In 1959, the effects of nuclear fallout were still under initial study and not widely understood. We see Bemis emerging from the bank vault more or less immediately after a thermonuclear blast (bomb-shelter protocol says to wait at least two weeks for the worst of the radioactivity to decay), eating packaged food that was probably irradiated, etc. So even with his glasses, Bemis would have not lived to enjoy his books for very long. See more »
Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He'll have a world all to himself - without anyone.
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From the first time I saw this episode in its original form to today, the events of this simple tale have stayed with me. I have been an English teacher for 35 years and have used this on numerous occasions to teach irony. Of course, this is the story of a man who is so incredibly unhappy. His adversaries are people who see his fascination with books as a consummate waste of time. His wife, his boss, his customers all see him as a loser. He seems like a delightful man, full of ideas, but in the world of his bank job he is merely inefficient. I love the line "go back to your cage" delivered by his boss. Of course, as most anyone knows, he gets his chance to have everything he wants, except he has one weakness. The reason I give this a nine rather than a ten is that there are some things that just don't fit the post nuclear world. Serling must have been a little impatient; and, of course, he was on an incredibly grueling schedule. Suffice it to say, once you've seen the ending, it never leaves you.
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