A Ridiculous Relationship With Technology In The Veldt, A Short Story By Ray Bradbury
In Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Veldt, he invites us to imagine a future wherein a device exists which can recreate any scene directly out of a user’s imagination completely believably. This technology is employed to keep children entertained, in appliances called nurseries.
Like many things in literature, I believe that this is not meant to be taken literally at face value, and instead Bradbury’s intent here is to satirize our relationship with the technology we create. The nursery, which can make real anything you can imagine, is designed to represent our increasing ability to utilize technology for our own ends. I believe the following quote1 gives a good impression of what I mean.
“Don’t let them do it!” wailed Peter at the ceiling, as if he was talking to the house, the nursery. “Don’t let Father kill everything.” He turned to his father. “Oh, I hate you!” “Insults won’t get you anywhere.” “I wish you were dead!” “We were, for a long while. Now we’re going to really start living. Instead of being handled and massaged, we’re going to live.” Wendy was still crying and Peter joined her again. “Just a moment, just one moment, just another moment of nursery,” they wailed. “Oh, George,” said the wife, “it can’t hurt.” “All right – all right, if they’ll just shut up. One minute, mind you, and then off forever.” “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” sang the children, smiling with wet faces. “And then we’re going on a vacation. David McClean is coming back in half an hour to help us move out and get to the airport. I’m going to dress. You turn the nursery on for a minute, Lydia, just a minute, mind you.”
Peter says “I wish you were dead” and his father thinks little of it, the not atypical outburst of a stubborn and indignant child. Unfortunately for Peter his house is equipped with a device designed to extract and amplify these thought’s directly from Peter’s head and make them real. In “ordinary” life the father would be protected from his child’s deadly impulses by a difference in force. The child is very likely incapable of killing his father. But with the advent of technology, “the nursery” has inadvertently given the child this power.
This is a very important quote in this it work because I believe it reveals the message Bradbury is trying to impart. The child in this story is not meant to be interpreted literally, but as a metaphor for ourselves, and our foolish destructive tendencies. He fears that we may develop powerful technology without understanding or respect for the danger that this power could pose to ourselves.
There is an additional layer here, which is that our supposed better nature, the adults in this metaphor, are unable to resist the temptation to satisfy the children. They give in, “just for a minute” the father says, but it is a minute too late. The foolish children have put their plan in motion, metaphorically our worse nature had got the better of us.
It is interesting to note that this story was published in 1950, as the Cold War began to pick up steam between the US and Russia, and the nuclear question was on everybody’s mind. Perhaps, and I think this is likely, the metaphor here can apply to Bradbury’s thoughts on the situation we found ourselves in at that time. Where our technology had advanced to the point where world powers could totally annihilate each other a thousand times over, but our basic human nature remained comparatively primitive and quick to take impulsive action, or to borrow from Bradbury’s metaphor: childish.
I think this nuclear spectre had an influence on Bradbury, though perhaps he did not intend to relate this story to that issue directly, I think that it had an effect. It is hard for us today to imagine what it would have been like to live under the constant and credible threat of total societal collapse at any moment. To quote the late Carl Sagan, “The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five. And we’re all stuck in the room with them.” Anyone coming of age in such an environment would find it difficult not to be influenced by the fear this would create.
The central take-away should be this: Bradbury wants us to have respect and thoughtfulness for the technologies we create, and to be aware of and trepidation in regard to the power that technology brings us.
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