Analysis of 'There Will Come Soft Rains' by Ray Bradbury

A Story of Life Continuing Without Humans

Nuclear Test
U.S. Government

American writer Ray Bradbury (1920 - 2012) was one of the most popular and prolific fantasy and science fiction writers of the 20th century. He is probably best known for his novel , but he also wrote hundreds of short stories, several of which have been adapted for film and television.

First published in 1950, "There Will Come Soft Rains" is a futuristic story that follows the activities of an automated house after its human residents have been obliterated, most likely by a nuclear weapon.

The Influence of Sara Teasdale

The story takes its title from a poem by Sara Teasdale (1884 - 1933). In her poem "There Will Come Soft Rains", Teasdale envisions an idyllic post-apocalyptic world in which nature continues peacefully, beautifully and indifferently after the extinction of humankind.

The poem is told in gentle, rhyming couplets. Teasdale uses alliteration liberally. For example, robins wear "feathery fire" and are "whistling their whims." The effect of both the rhymes and the alliteration is smooth and peaceful. Positive words like "soft," "shimmering," and "singing" further emphasize the sense of rebirth and peacefulness in the poem.

Contrast with Teasdale

Teasdale's poem was published in 1920. Bradbury's story, in contrast, was published five years after the atomic devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

Where Teasdale has circling swallows, singing frogs and whistling robins, Bradbury offers "lonely foxes and whining cats," as well as the emaciated family dog, "covered with sores," which "ran wildly in circles, biting at its tail, spun in a circle and died." In his story, animals fare no better than humans.

Bradbury's only survivors are imitations of nature: robotic cleaning mice, aluminum roaches and iron crickets, and the colorful exotic animals projected onto the glass walls of the children's nursery.

He uses words like "afraid," "empty," "emptiness," "hissing," and "echoing," to create a cold, ominous feeling that is the opposite of Teasdale's poem.

In Teasdale's poem, no element of nature -- not even Spring herself -- would notice or care whether humans were gone. But almost everything in Bradbury's story is human-made and seems irrelevant in the absence of people. As Bradbury writes:

"The house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small, servicing, attending, in choirs. But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly."

Meals are prepared but not eaten. Bridge games are set up, but no one plays them. Martinis are made but not drunk. Poems are read, but there's no one to listen. The story is full of automated voices recounting times and dates that are meaningless without a human presence.

The Unseen Horror

As in a Greek tragedy, the real horror of Bradbury's story -- the human suffering -- remains offstage.

Bradbury tells us directly that the city has been reduced to rubble and exhibits a "radioactive glow" at night.

But instead of describing the moment of the explosion, he shows us a wall charred black except where the paint remains intact in the shape of a woman picking flowers, a man mowing the lawn, and two children tossing a ball. These four people were presumably the family who lived in the house.

We see their silhouettes frozen in a happy moment in the normal paint of the house. Bradbury does not bother describing what must have happened to them.  It is implied by the charred wall.

The clock ticks relentlessly, and the house keeps moving through its normal routines. Every hour that passes magnifies the permanence of the family's absence. They will never again enjoy a happy moment in their yard. They will never again participate in any of the regular activities of their home life.

The Use of Surrogates

Perhaps the pronounced way in which Bradbury conveys the unseen horror of the nuclear explosion is through surrogates.

One surrogate is the dog who dies and is unceremoniously disposed of in the incinerator by the mechanical cleaning mice. Its death seems painful, lonely and most importantly, unmourned.

Given the silhouettes on the charred wall, the family, too, seems to have been incinerated, and because the destruction of the city appears complete, there is no one left to mourn them.  

At the end of the story, the house itself becomes personified and thus serves as another surrogate for human suffering. It dies a gruesome death, echoing what must have befallen humanity yet not showing it to us directly.  

At first, this parallel seems to sneak up on readers. When Bradbury writes, "At ten o'clock the house began to die," it might initially seem that the house is simply dying down for the night. After all, everything else it does has been completely systematic. So it might catch a reader off guard -- and thus be more terrifying -- when the house truly starts to die.

The house's desire to save itself, combined with the cacophony of dying voices, certainly evokes human suffering. In a particularly disturbing description, Bradbury writes:

"The house shuddered, oak bone on bone, its bared skeleton cringing from the heat, its wire, its nerves revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins and capillaries quiver in the scalded air."

The parallel with the human body is almost complete here: bones, skeleton, nerves, skin, veins, capillaries. The destruction of the personified house allows readers to feel the extraordinary sadness and intensity of the situation, whereas a graphic description of the death of a human being might simply make readers recoil in horror.

Time and Timelessness

When Bradbury's story was first published, it was set in the year 1985.

Later versions have updated the year to 2026 and 2057. The story is not meant to be a specific prediction about the future, but rather to show a possibility that, at any time, could lie just around the corner.