Death and Meaninglessness
World War I brought an entirely new meaning to the idea of conflicts between nations. While thousands of patriots from each of the countries involved went eagerly and confidently into battle, thousands more were shocked by the massive undertaking, never before having witnessed such large-scale political participation in warfare. For many, that shock led to disillusionment with their own governments and depression over the loss of so many young men who fought and died without fully understanding why they were fighting and for whom they were dying. Sara Teasdale was one of the latter.
For years, the poet had used her creativity to write love poems. Her style was simple, elegant, and innocent, expressing feminine sensitivity to romantic relationships, marriage, loss of love, and the beauty of finding it again. Addressing the brutality of physical battle and warring nations did not enter her work until her own emotional response to World War I forced her into it. This was new territory for Teasdale, but she ventured into it with the same simple yet imposing style, changing only her themes to reflect the dark mood and nagging fear that plagued her own mind and her environment. Suddenly, life seemed meaningless. With so many people willing to take up arms and march into strange lands ready to kill or be killed, Teasdale found it difficult to maintain any sense of decency or order in the world, to hold onto a belief in a gentle and peaceful human nature. Both her anger and pessimism are evident in “There Will Come Soft Rains.”
The first half of the poem—with its pastoral scenes and pretty depiction of animals and trees in their natural states—is a set-up for the second half when suddenly the tone turns bitter, admonishing mankind’s absurd and chaotic behavior. The total disappearance of human beings from the earth is not as far-fetched an idea as it once may have been, and...
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A Literary Analysis of There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury
Over the course of history, mankind has only used atomic weapons in war twice due to the overwhelming devastation they cause. The bomb mankind created was too powerful for humans and its use would only lead to our demise. Ray Bradbury knew this, as he lived through the development and use of the original atomic bombs. While famously known as a science fiction author, Bradbury hated being classified as such. Science fiction holds some basis in science, whereas Bradbury prided himself in creating works of fantasy and horror (Bio). In many of his works Bradbury infuses fantasy in the form of technologies that do not yet exist and horror in the form of vivid scenes of death and destruction in the not-too-distant future. Bradbury’s short story, There Will Come Soft Rains, describes the extinction of mankind after a nuclear holocaust in the year 2026. The story follows the actions of an artificially intelligent house that continues along its daily duties despite the death of the owners. Through descriptive literary techniques Bradbury tells a cautionary tale of mankind’s demise when technology outpaces humanity, ultimately affirming that nothing of man or machine can prevail against nature.
Bradbury is not a fan of machines that take away human involvement in the world. When interviewed about one of his most famous works, “Fahrenheit 451”, critics concluded that Bradbury heavily explored themes of censorship and conformity. He disputed those, arguing instead that his goal was simply to explain how television and technology drives interest away from reading, learning and curiosity. He was quoted as saying “Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was” (Bio). He portrays his idea, when applied to There Will Come Soft Rains, in the main theme that before the destruction of the human race technology begins to outlast and outpace humanity. The story features a house that cooks and cleans entirely by itself. It does everything, from watering the lawn and preparing cigars to reading bedtime poems to its users. But, like in Fahrenheit, Bradbury does not promote the house or what it stands for in the literary interpretation. He instead specifically shows how the house has removed human interaction by describing daily activities that the house performs religiously despite lack of inhabitants. The disposal of the dog (discussed in detail later) shows how cold and emotionless it could be. Bradbury describes the house in these ways to portray it as too rigid and too robotic in its motives. Here, the house is almost used as a warning from Bradbury, in that if we continue down our current path where technology evolves faster than our humanity we will eventually be obsolete to our own houses.
From the beginning of the story to the end, Bradbury uses specific word choice and descriptive techniques to give clues telling of humanity’s fate. The story begins at seven o’clock in Allendale, California on August 4th, 2026. Rain taps echo through the house. A voice-clock informs an empty house that it is time to start the day with a healthy breakfast. An automated kitchen begins to prepare food, specifically eight pieces of toast, eight eggs, sixteen slices of bacon, two cups of coffee and two glasses of milk. Through this breakfast menu we can assume 4 people live in the house, specifically two adults and two children, based on the beverage orders. At ten o’clock the sun comes out, and the reader is told that the house “stands alone is a city of rubble and ashes” (Bradbury). At night, the city emits a “glow” that can be seen for miles. The reference to rubble and ash, combined with the information about a radioactive glow, begin to point more clearly to mankind’s fate. This casts the city of Allendale, California in the reader’s mind as a glowing, radioactive wasteland with one house that sits alone among the ruins after a massive bombing of some sort. Bradbury later adds more evidence to describe our fate as a species after using such devastating weapons of mass destruction. The story moves into the backyard at ten fifteen to describe the house’s exterior.
The reader is told sprinklers doused the charred west side of the house. The usage of west is sometimes notable when performing literary analysis as it can symbolize the death of things, as it is where the sun goes to die on a daily basis. The use of west could also be alluding to which direction the bombs came from. When Bradbury wrote this short story in the ‘50s our nation was locked in the Cold War with the USSR. If the Russians ever launched their weapons they would send many of them east across the Pacific, and the first Americans to be hit would be Californians. Returning to the story, the entire west side of the house is black except for five silhouettes: A man mowing the lawn, a woman picking flowers, and two children at play beneath a thrown ball. This ratifies Bradbury’s earlier hint at a family of four, and further informs the reader of how they died. Their images were “burned on the wood in one titanic instant”, a description rich with information (Bradbury). The images burned on the wall refer to what is known as a “Hiroshima Shadow”, a silhouette caused by an object interrupting the flash of thermal radiation from an atomic bomb (Oki). The Hiroshima Shadow was first discovered after the dropping of Little Boy on Hiroshima, Japan in World War Two. After the bombing of Hiroshima silhouettes of Japanese citizens going about their daily lives were found burned into walls that faced the blast. The Hiroshima Shadow was born, and became instantly notorious for capturing a subject’s final moments of life before being cruelly burned alive in a nuclear fire. Hiroshima Shadows were well known as a sign of the destructive power of nuclear weapons when Bradbury wrote Soft Rains in 1950, and even today they portray the destructiveness of the bomb.
Bradbury continues his use of descriptive language to emphasize his point, but also resorts to the use of the work of another writer to warn against mankind’s use of an apocalyptic weapon. At nine o’clock the house queries what poem the family would like to hear before bedtime. The inclusion of a bedtime poem stood out, as usually people hear bedtime stories. When nobody answered the question, the house chose the mother’s favorite bedtime poem, “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sara Teasdale.
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools, singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
To begin, we first notice that the title of the poem is the namesake of the short story, implying that Bradbury wanted the poem to be an essential part of the story. It should also be known that Sara Teasdale wrote this poem in 1920, the year after World War I ended. In line ten, Teasdale alludes to human extinction at the hands of war with “mankind perished utterly.” This writing of human extinction was unusual for her time, and not a commonplace thought until the invention of nuclear weapons almost 25 years later (The Atomic Age). Bradbury uses Teasdale’s poem to warn of humankinds impending extinction with the continued use of atomic bombs. He also introduces his other point; nature will always prevail over humanity and its inventions.
Early on in There Will Come Soft Rains Bradbury introduces an important theme of the constant battle between the house and nature. Early on in the story, the house seemingly develops an obsession with cleaning. On a daily set schedule it releases tiny rubber robot mice to clean an unused house, describing the action as “sucking hidden dust.” A house that is unused and closed off to the outside world would not get dirty, making the house appear slightly paranoid. When a bird so much as touched the house a window shade would snap, scaring the bird away in an “old maidenly preoccupation with self-protection.” Emotions such as paranoia and instincts such as self-protection are not something that should be displayed by a house, but Bradbury continually anthropomorphizes the home to further demonstrate his point. Several leaf fragments fell on the front porch of the house early in the story, and painstaking effort was put into the description of how the leaves were disposed of. Small copper rats were activated, and the swarmed out of a wall panel. With “miniature steel jaws” the rats would grab the debris and return to the walls. There the rats would deposit the piece of debris they had into a tube that led to the incinerator, described as a sighing, evil Baal in the corner. In analysis the way the rats clean is incredibly inefficient to emphasize a point. They pick up one piece of dirt at a time and have it burned immediately, a deliberate process that ensures all uncleanliness would be removed in the most absolute way possible. At one point in the story the family dog, a representation and symbol of nature, returns to the house where it finally succumbs to its radiation sickness. Outside of Bradbury’s fantasy world pets are thought of as members of a family, and it remains common for animals to be buried or cremated. In the story, however, the disposal of the carcass becomes much less ceremonious; demonstrating and clarifying the house’s lack of remorse in its dislike for nature, disposing of it without even the shallowest hint of emotion. The house sensed the dead dog and sent out swarms of the mice and rats to clean it up. Remembering the rats with steel jaws, the reader is meant to draw the conclusion that the dog, or nature, becomes easily and readily disposable in a world with rampant technological advancement. The story tells us the whole process took only 15 minutes, and the incinerator in the basement glowed happily as sparks were thrown up the chimney. If the house were personified the reader could imagine the emotion it would be displaying is that of satisfaction in its triumph over the uncleanliness and disorder of nature.
The house’s triumph would not last however. Bradbury begins nature’s wrath with the rhyme “a falling tree bough crashed through the kitchen window.” Rhyme remains unusual in Bradbury’s literary arsenal, and denotes a sense of playfulness and excitement for the coming chaos, wherein nature begins its triumph over the house. The falling branch causes cleaning solvent to combust, and the kitchen is instantly set on fire. In is important to note that the cleaning solvent causes the house’s eventual demise, evidence that Bradbury was very tongue-in-cheek when writing how the cleanliness-obsessed house was reclaimed by nature. The ultimate struggle begins between nature’s fire and the house. The fire “spread on the linoleum, licking, eating under the kitchen door” as the house desperately tried to save itself. It shut automated doors and employed its army of mechanical rats and mice to try and extinguish the fire with water. The fire beat these defenses as “ten billion angry sparks moved with flaming ease.” The choice by Bradbury to personify the fire adds to the imagery of nature and humanity’s technology interlocked in an epic battle. The fire continued its rampage, “laying in beds and standing in windows.” The house, on its last legs, it deployed a green fire retardant from the attic. This postponed the fire’s charge only temporarily, as it instead went outside and climbed the sides of the house. Upon reaching the attic, the fire struck the ultimate blow and disabled the “brain” of the house. The battle ends. The next morning the sun rises over the one remaining wall of the house, and Bradbury mentions the dawn in in the east. The sun has always risen in the east, so the specific mentioning of an otherwise common event was likely deliberate for symbolic reasons. The east represents a new beginning, and referring back to Teasdale’s poem we remember the central idea of “There Will Come Soft Rains” is that nature will eventually reclaim all things.
As a witness to the awesome power of nuclear weapons, There Will Come Soft Rains was written by Ray Bradbury to scare readers with scenes of a post-apocalyptic American Suburb. Bradbury draws upon his love for fantasy by creating an intelligent house that operates autonomously despite lack of humans to serve. In his love for horror he places the house alone amongst rubble, and uses his mastery of literature to give spine-chilling descriptions of what happened to everyone. In the house he places a personality, one that pushes his theme that human technology outpaced our humanity in a heartless and emotionless way. More descriptive literature, paired with the works of a poet from post WWI help Bradbury drive towards his secondary theme that eventually all things will be reclaimed by nature. And while not as much of a threat today, nuclear weapons are still a force to be respected, and Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains still conveys the same effective message of warning.
Bradbury, Ray. "There Will Come Soft Rains." The Martian Chronicles. New York: Bantam, 1979. OU
English 233. Web. 14 Mar. 2013. <http://www.ou.edu/cls/online/lstd1233/pdf/bradbury.pdf>.
The Martian Chronicles is a collection of some of Ray Bradbury's most famous works. There Will
Come Soft Rains is featured here, after its original introduction in 1950. The story follows
the actions of a computer controlled house in the future, and through the house's actions we
are able to learn more about the owners and their fate. Eventually after an uncontrolled fire
the house is burned down, and in an homage to the original poem There Will Come Soft Rains,
nature is finally able to take over again.
Oki, Masami. An illustration of the shadows caused by a nuclear bomb. Saga University Physics. Saga
U, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2013. <http://pegasus.phys.saga-u.ac.jp/imagesMac-PC/ForPEACE/
parapets.jpg>. This photograph is an example of the types of shadows that can be cast by a
nuclear bomb. In There Will Come Soft Rains Bradbury specifically mentions a set of
shadows that were ingrained onto the outside of the house. He is referencing these instances in
Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the nuclear blast was so hot and bright that it cast a silhouette
of a person onto the surface nearby.
"Ray Douglas Bradbury." The Biography Channel website. n.d. Web. Mar 20 2013. <http://www.biography.com/people/ray-bradbury-9223240>. The Biography Chanel listed Ray Bradbury on a list of the 10 best science fiction writers, and conducted a thorough biography describing his early life. The biography gave insight into Bradbury’s works, helping illuminate what drove the man to write about what he did. In the paper it is used to help support a historical analysis.
"The Atomic Age Online." Fear! Living under a Mushroom Cloud. Wisconsin Museum of History, n.d. Web.
14 Mar. 2013. <http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/museum/atomic/fear.asp>. Fear! is
an online exhibit from the Wisconsin Museum of History. Through the online exhibit the reader
can gain a glimpse of what life would have been like during the atomic era, between the
dropping of the first nuclear bomb and the end of the cold war. This website was used to help
formulate opinions as to why Bradbury might have written the way he did, in the height of the
fear of the atomic bomb.