There Will Come Soft Rains
“Tick-tock, seven o’clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o ‘clock… Today is August 4, 2026…” a voice rings out from the irradiated ruins of the city trying to awake its owners. Its efforts in vain as nobody answers and nobody wakes as the family’s image is baked into the west wall as though they were frozen time. Time and time again the house calls for them though they never replied.
What the house doesn’t know is that they died, everything has died or is at least doomed to. Those that weren’t wiped out during the initial exchange of nuclear arms, were left the world that had unfurled itself under the radioactive mushroom clouds that blocked the skies. This is the world we are shown in Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” it is a desolate and dying world where the only seen remnants of humanity are its creations. Ray Bradbury created this bleak and horrible world to illustrate to the audience the true horrors of a nuclear war. But to further understand his reasons for writing “There Will Come Soft Rains” it is important to understand the context he wrote it in.
“There Will Come Soft Rains” was published May 6, 1950 mere months after the Soviet Union tested their first nuclear bomb, ending the US monopoly on nuclear weapons. and for the first time in history making human extinction through the act of warfare not only a hypothetical scenario, but a very real prospect. While Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” is one of the most prominent stories when it comes to the theme of human self extinction through warfare, it isn’t the first. That honor goes to Sara Teasdale’s poem “There Will Come Soft Rains” which was published near the end of the World War I in the summer of 1918. Her poem describes a rather serene and calm image of nature reclaiming the remains of an old battlefield, only to then reveal that whatever conflict this old battlefield was from, had drove humanity to extinction. As Sara Teasdale puts it most eloquently, “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.” saying that even if humanity were to somehow to destroy itself, life on Earth would continue on with little regard for humanity’s disappearance “And not one will know of the war, not one will care at last when it is done.”. It is this last part here that sets apart Sara Teasdale’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” from Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”. Teasdale’s poem puts forward the comparatively optimistic idea that no matter how destructive humanity’s conflicts are nature will be able to persist and potentially flourish in the aftermath. This is as opposed to Bradbury’s story which tries to rebut Teasdale’s conclusion, saying that with the invention of nuclear weapons the destruction that can now be inflicted by war can now have long lasting detrimental effects to the natural world long after humanity has ceased to exist. In fact the unprecedented destructive capabilities of nuclear weapons is an important concept in Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”.
Following the dropping of “Little Boy” on Hiroshima and “Fat Man” on Nagasaki, Japan would surrender to the Allies, and subsequently be occupied by the United States. It was during the occupation that rest of world would come to learn the terrible destruction and suffering that the bombs were capable of inflicting beyond just the blast. The radiation that was unleashed by the bombs introduced new horrors to fear following nuclear detonations which no prior weapons had been capable of achieving. The “Flash” as it is know, is the initial release of thermal radiation from the detonation, and is capable of starting firestorms, blinding people for many miles in the area around the detonation, causing 3rd degree burns to whole body, and most infamously etching people’s “shadows” onto surfaces giving us a snapshot into what they were doing immediately before their deaths, as displayed by the family’s silhouettes on the west wall. On top of the immediate firestorms, shockwaves, and other horrors, the bombs would also leave the survivors with radiation sickness and an almost guaranteed chance of cancer. This was display in the story with the appearance of former family dog, who Keep in mind this is the impact a lone nuclear weapon can deal, in a realistic nuclear war scenario, hundreds of warheads would be detonated, each sending tens of thousands of tons of irradiate dust, ash and soot into atmosphere, not only spreading the radioactive particles well past the initial area of detonation in the form of fallout but, blocking out the sun causing global temperatures to drop, widespread crop failure, and depletion of the Ozone layer allowing for increased amounts of ultraviolet radiation to seep through the atmosphere. These factors would almost certainly render life on Earth a daily struggle for dozens of generations following the nuclear holocaust. The natural world would be afflicted with debilitating genetic defects that may render vast swathes of life sterile leading to an extinction event that could potentially rival that of the KPG mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs. The fact that Humanity is willing to destroy the planet in order settle petty political disputes flows nicely into the next theme of the story, the selfish disregard that humanity shows towards each other and more importantly, to the natural world.
Humanity’s selfish need to bend the natural world and others to their whims is arguably one of the most important themes in Ray Bradbury’s collection of short stories “The Martian Chronicles” of which “There Will Come Soft Rains” is a part of. “The Martian Chronicles” shows us a future where humanity has left the Earth a desolate and irradiated wasteland, leaving the human colony on Mars as the last bastion of human civilization. Ray Bradbury throughout the collection of short stories tries to make it clear that this last bastion of humanity should instead of considering themselves earthlings, and trying to make Mars a second Earth, should embrace their new identities as martians, and separate themselves from their past on Earth lest they repeat the same mistakes. This means instead of constantly trying to bend the world around them to their will, they should instead let themselves be shaped and molded by the world around them. This destructive impulse to recreate the world around us to our benefit is represented in “There Will Come Soft Rains” with the automated house that the story is centered around. The house which is throughout the story is personified as having a living being with a brain, nerves, bones, flesh, blood and in some capacity, a will to live. All these factors combined make the house in many ways the only human in the story, making it an invaluable medium for Ray Bradbury’s messages in the story. The house is portrayed as wasteful, constantly making food only to throw it away, paranoid, always chasing off any wildlife seeking refuge from the wasteland humanity made, and apathetic, tossing the dog into the furnace once it has died. Beyond that on the inside of the house we have the nursery. Which puts on a vivid show of exotic wildlife every night with “ yellow giraffes, blue lions, pink antelopes, lilac panthers…” that are meant to allow the children to experience beauty of nature, all the while keeping them from experiencing the real and less pleasant natural world. The house is filled to the brim with little automatons, each personified as animals typically considered pests such as aluminum roaches, robotic mice, iron crickets, and fire suppressing snakes, each made to “defend” humanity from the natural world.
Yet in the end, it is this glut of advanced technology that ultimately causes the destruction of the house when cleaning solvent is shattered over the stove and erupts into flames. While the house does attempt to quench the fires with its sprinkler systems, its success is short-lived as the water which had “…filled baths and washed dishes for many quiet days” was gone, allowing for the fire to consume the house completely. This parallels the destruction of mankind who also fell victim to their own advanced technology during the onset of the nuclear holocaust. Then was unable to stave off long term destruction due to short sighted and wasteful decisions such as, poor rationing of food and water and not leaving Earth for Mars despite signs of an imminent nuclear war.
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“Tick-tock, seven o’clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o ‘clock… Today is August 4, 2026…” a voice rings out from the irradiated ruins of the city […]