The Unicorn in the garden (James Thurber)


Once upon a sunny morning, a man who sat at his breakfast looked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a golden horn quietly cropping the roses in the garden. The man went up to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke her. ‘There’s a unicorn in the garden,’ he said. ‘Eating roses.’ She opened one unfriendly eye and looked at him. ‘The unicorn is a mythical beast,’ she said, and turned her back on him. The man walked slowly downstairs and out into the garden. The unicorn was still there; he was now browsing among the tulips. ‘Here, unicorn,’ said the man, and he pulled up a lily and gave it to him. The unicorn ate it gravely. With a high heart, because there was a unicorn in his garden, the man went upstairs and roused his wife again. ‘The unicorn,’ he said, ‘ate a lily.’ His wife sat up in bed and looked at him, coldly. ‘You are a booby,’ she said, ‘and I am going to have you put in the booby-hatch.’ The man, who had never liked the words ‘booby’ and ‘booby-hatch’, and who liked them even less on a shining morning when there was a unicorn in the garden, thought for a moment. ‘We’ll see about that,’ he said. He walked over to the door. ‘He has a golden horn in the middle of his forehead,’ he told her. Then he went back to the garden to watch the unicorn; but the unicorn had gone away. The man sat down among the roses and went to sleep.


As soon as the husband had gone out of the house, the wife got up and dressed as fast as she could. She was very excited and there was a gloat in her eye. She telephoned the police and she telephoned a psychiatrist; she told them to hurry to her house and bring a straight-jacket. When the police and the psychiatrist arrived, they sat down in chairs and looked at her, with great interest. ‘My husband,’ she said, ‘saw a unicorn this morning.’ The police looked at the psychiatrist and the psychiatrist looked at the police. ‘He told me it ate a lily,’ she said. The psychiatrist looked at the police and the police looked at the psychiatrist. ‘He told me it had a golden horn in the middle of its forehead,’ she said. At a solemn signal from the psychiatrist, the police leaped from their chairs and seized the wife. They had a hard time subduing her, for she put up a terrific struggle, but they finally subdued her. Just as they got her into the straight-jacket, the husband came back into the house.


‘Did you tell your wife you saw a unicorn?’ asked the police. ‘Of course not,’ said the husband. ‘The unicorn is a mythical beast.’ ‘That’s all I wanted to know,’ said the psychiatrist. ‘Take her away. I’m sorry, sir, but your wife is as crazy as a jay bird.’ So they took her away, cursing and screaming, and shut her up in an institution. The husband lived happily ever after.


Moral:  Don’t count your boobies until they are hatched.




Answer questions 1-13 in your exercise book. The remaining questions may be done on this paper.


From paragraph 1


1.   Yes, No or Maybe?         In each case, give a reason for your answer.

      a.   The man found it hard to believe there could be a unicorn in his garden.

      b.   The wife didn’t believe in unicorns.

      c.   The wife told her husband he was stupid.

      d.   The unicorn is in fact a neighbour who disguised himself.


2.   Why do you think the man walked slowly downstairs?


3.   Find a word or expression in the paragraph which means the same thing as:

      a.   eating

      b.   imaginary

      c.   happily

      d.   woke

      e.   madman

      f.    a lunatic asylum


From paragraph 2


4.   Rewrite the following false statements to make them true.


      a.   The wife was worried when she called the police and the psychiatrist.

      b.   She told them to come to her house when they had time.

      c.   The psychiatrist leapt up and grabbed the wife.

      d.   They were unable to subdue her.


5.   Why do you think the wife got up and dressed as fast as she could?


6.   The police and the psychiatrist looked at the wife with great interest because...


            A.        they were interested in knowing more about the husband.

            B.         they were already quite sure she was crazy.

            C.        it was part of their job always to seem interested in what people told them.


7.    Find a word or expression which means the opposite of


      a.   excite

      b.   it was easy for them

      c.   she did not resist


8.   Supply the missing link-words so that the sentences give the meaning of the text.


  1. The wife telephoned the police _______________ her husband was asleep in the garden.


  1. ________________ the wife looked excited, the police and the psychiatrist thought she was crazy.


      c.      ___________________ she wanted the police to arrest her husband, she was arrested herself.



9.   Identify the errors in the following summary of this paragraph.


      When the husband went out, the wife left the house as quickly as she could and called the police and the psychiatrist. When they arrived she told them there was a unicorn in the garden and they realized she was mad. They finally jumped on her and had no difficulty putting her into a straight-jacket.


From paragraph 3


10.   The husband said he had never seen a unicorn because...


            A.        he didn’t like psychiatrists and did not want to tell them the truth.

            B.         he was hoping to get rid of his wife by not telling them the truth.

            C.        he didn’t remember what had happened to him in the morning.

            D.        he had never seen a unicorn and had told his wife a lie, knowing she would call the

                        psychiatrist and be shut up in an institution.


11.   At the end of the text...


            A.        the husband succeeds in getting rid of his wife.

            B.         the wife succeeds in making her husband admit he’d never seen a unicorn.

            C.        both husband and wife gain something.


12.    Find three words or expressions showing how violent the wife becomes at the end of the text.


From the whole story


13.   Is the text organised in a logical, argumentative or chronological way?

        What link-words or expressions reflect this organisation?


                                                                        Name____________________Class Number_______


14.   For each of these adjectives, say who it refers to, when it is used and why it is applied to that person.




































15.   There is a great difference between the behaviour of the husband and his wife in the story. Read it again, paying particular attention to the various ways this difference is revealed, then complete the following table:




 How they react  to the unicorn.




Pronoun used  to refer to the  unicorn.



Attitude  towards their  wife/husband.



Their surroundings.




How you interpret their behaviour.







16.  Who says the following words, on what occasion, and why?





‘You are a booby’





‘The unicorn is a mythical beast’


















‘We’ll see about that.’





                                                            Name____________________Class Number_______


17.  Suggest another title for the story. ____________________________________________________________


18.  Suggest another moral for the story._____________________________________________




19.  Complete the following summary of the story.


This is the story of a man who, one day,___________________________________ in his garden.


His first reaction is _____________________________ but she _________________________ .


When he goes back to the garden the man ____________________________________ and he is


so happy and excited that he goes back ___________________________ . However, she threatens


to __________________________________________. When he goes to see the unicorn again,


he ____________________________________ and she _______________________________.


However, when the police and psychiatrist come they think _______________________________ 


and they ______________________________________________________. When the husband


comes in they ask him ______________________ He tells them __________________________


_________________________________________________________ so they _____________




20.       Unjumble the following words to make sentences about the story.


a.         more husband the poetic wife. is The than




b.         crazy. psychiatrist never was believed that the The husband




c.         life in enjoyed The an live had his husband wife his after to institution. gone