Nowadays Ray Bradbury is seen as a literary prophet whose forecasts as for the future of humanity look terrifyingly realistic. His works can be only nominally qualified as science fiction, as they speak more truth about the world we are living in than many classical novels. The writer employs his imagination to depict in detail those gloomy places where the humanity can be taken by the dangerous paths chosen by it today. There Will Come Soft Rains is among such prophetic works. In this short story, Ray Bradbury creatively explores the way the rapid development of technology has speeded up the demise of the American dream, which has been emptied of its original meaning and transformed into a set of stereotypes and material attributes.
The American dream can be defined in many different ways, but the common image that comes to mind at once is the cliche of a family with two children, a boy and a girl, a dog, a perfect house with a lawn and a car. Bradbury uses this cliche as the central visual anchor around which he builds the whole story. The family is long dead, only their silhouettes remain imprinted on the wall of the lonely doomed house: the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn a woman bent to pick flowers a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and opposite him a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down (Bradbury 222). This image, so vivid and powerful, has been interpreted by many artists. It is also the first visual association with the short story. The potent effect it has upon the reader is closely connected with the contrasts embedded in it. First, it is the contrast between the black charcoaled wall representing radioactive present and five white spots symbolizing the idyllic past that is never to return or a dream that is never to come true. It is also the contrast between the lyrical description of the garden sprinklers which whirled up in golden founts, filling the soft morning air with scatterings of brightness and the city of rubble and ashes, which gave off a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles (Bradbury 222). But most of all, it is the contrast between the naive optimism of the dreamy cliche and the dark reality of war caused by human irresponsibility and selfishness. The American dream about a perfect family living in a perfect house with a perfect lawn is never to be realized because the forces that can bring it into being are self-destructive.
Nowadays technology is a loyal servant to human beings, but the society tends to forget that technological progress is not a thing per se. It is planned, carried out and directed by people. While technology may be tamed and made to serve domestic purposes, like the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal (Bradbury 222) described in the story, it can also be that wild destructive force that has ruined the city and killed its whole population. The choice is up to the humans. In the story one of the mechanical voices recites Mrs. McClellans favorite poem There Will Come Soft Rains by Sara Teasdale. This poem, published in 1920, paints a picture of the nature taking over the battlefield and erasing all traces of human activity: Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, // If mankind perished utterly (Teasdale). The lines are filled with lyrical sadness, but this sadness is light. The author indulges the readers senses with the smell of the ground, shimmering sound of swallows and wild plum trees in tremulous white (Teasdale). This humanless future is almost ideal. Life goes on and it is truly beautiful. Thirty years later Bradbury paints a different future. The soft rains of his post-apocalyptic world are automatic sprinklers. When he writes about the gentle sprinkler rain that filled the garden with falling light (Bradbury 222), the author is turning prose into poetry in order to show how absurd and inappropriate is the way humans isolate themselves in the tech-laden dream homes, detaching themselves from the real world with its beauty and tenderness. The nature, that these people consume, is artificial with the nursery floor woven to resemble a crisp, cereal meadow, aluminum roaches and iron crickets running over it and butterflies of delicate red tissue wavering among the sharp aroma of animal spoors (Bradbury 224). All the sounds, the lazy bumble of a purring lion, the patter of okapi feet and the murmur of a fresh jungle rain, like other hoofs, falling upon the summer-starched grass are just an imitation. But even this imitation dies in the fire with tragic vividness: Blue lions roared, purple giraffes bounded off. The panthers ran in circles, changing color, and ten million animals, running before the fire, vanished off toward a distant steaming river.... (Bradbury 227). This apocalyptic picture is a screaming reminder that humans are not the only ones who will perish in the radioactive wave. When at the end of the story the dawn shows faintly in the east and among the ruins the last voice says "Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is" (Bradbury 228), the reader is persuaded that life is possible after the end of mankind. But what the humanity leaves behind Teasdales robins whistling their whims on a low fence-wire or Bradburys heaped rubble and steam (Bradbury 228) is entirely the responsibility of the living.
When at the end of the story, the house falls, the attic smashing into kitchen and parlor the parlor into cellar, cellar into sub-cellar (Bradbury 228), it folds like a house of cards, a trick, a hocus pocus, something that does not have a solid base beneath it. It is a metaphor of the inadequacy and failure of the American dream. The dream is empty and dead. Machines that inhabit the house have taken place of its human owners. Machines seem to be alive now: the clock that sings, the sighing breakfast stove, electric eyes, tiny robot mice. The technology is animated and inspirited. But the fire that devours the house is alive too. It lies in beds and stands in windows, it backs off and sends flames outside the house. Now it is the battle between the technology, humanitys loyal servant, and the fire, the most powerful and destructive force of nature. Humans have started it, but they are not to witness its end. The American dream in Bradburys interpretation turns into a nightmare because people in all their short-sightedness and selfishness prefer to live in a dream rather than see the reality.
Bradbury, Ray. The Martian chronicles. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Teasdale, Sara. There Will Come Soft Rains. Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, 10 Apr. 2014, www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/there-will-come-soft-rains. Accessed 4 Mar. 2017.
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