Analysis of "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains is a science fiction short story set in Allendale, California, in the year 2026. It's unusual in that it has no human characters.
This article starts with a summary, and then looks at themes and some questions to consider.
Summary of There Will Come Soft Rains
The living-room clock announces that it's seven o'clock and time to get up. The house is empty.
At nine minutes after seven, the kitchen prepares breakfast and announces it's ready. The voice also states the date and some household reminders. There are mechanical sounds from inside the walls.
At one minute after eight, the voice says it's time for work and school. There's no activity in the house. It's raining outside.
The garage door opens for the car and closes after a long interval.
At eight-thirty the kitchen clears the table and cleans the dishes. At nine-fifteen tiny robot mice clean the whole house.
At ten-o'clock the sun comes out. This house is the only one standing in the city. Everything is destroyed. At night there's a radioactive glow.
At ten-fifteen the garden sprinklers come on. The west wall of the house is black except for five silhouettes—a man, a woman, and a boy and girl with a ball in the air between them.
Until today the house had kept its inhabitants protected. It didn't allow any outside intrusions.
At noon the front door opens to a familiar dog. The formerly large animal is now thin, sick and whining. It tracks in mud and other debris that the house promptly disposes of.
The dog runs upstairs and yelps at the doors. It comes back down, froths at the mouth, flails around wildly and dies in the parlor. At two-fifteen the mice have gotten rid of the dog's body.
At two-thirty-five the patio sets up for a game of cards and snacks. At four it puts everything away.
At four-thirty the nursery fills with images and sounds. The bath fills at five. From six to eight the house produces dinner, a fire and a cigar.
At nine the beds warm, and at five minutes after, a voice asks which poem Mrs. McClellan would like to hear. When it gets no answer, it randomly selects one by Sara Teasdale.
At ten a tree comes crashing through the kitchen window, spilling solvent on the stove and starting a fire.
The voice warns of the fire and the house tries to put it out, but it spreads too fast. The water reserve runs dry. The fire spreads to every room.
Emergency backup faucets shoot out green froth, slowing the fire. The flames from the outside get into the ceiling, destroying the circuitry of the house. The faucets shut down.
The house is being destroyed, and the voices stop one by one. The remaining circuitry malfunctions; the house executes many of its preset functions at once.
The structure of the house disintegrates. It collapses. There's thick smoke emanating from the scene and all is silent.
Eventually, the light of dawn appears. One wall of the house is still standing. As the sun shines on it, a voice announces a new day.
Theme: The Benefits and Danger of Technology
In the story, humans have developed technology that they use both for good and bad.
The level of technology allows people to live fairly carefree, at least when they're at home. Throughout, the house takes care of many things that increase people's leisure time or increase convenience.
It issues alerts for waking up, meal times, the date, personal reminders, the weather and departure times.
The house also prepares meals and clears the table, and cleans the house at preset times and when the need arises.
It opens and closes the garage door, waters the garden and provides security. It sets up the tables, chairs and cards for a game.
The nursery produces a show of sights and sounds for the children. The house closes the day with a relaxing evening routine.
The house also has an impressive defense against the fire that starts.
While the story is full of details about the benefits of technology, its main point is the danger.
This house is the only one left standing in its city, possibly in the world. A technological advance has made that possible. A nuclear blast, as suggested by "the radioactive glow", has leveled everything else.
There's obviously a disparity between the stakes involved—advancements can improve quality of life, but they can also end it. Or, to be less charitable, advancements can improve quality of life but not the quality of the people using them.
Theme: The Insignificance of Humans
The world in the story hasn't come to an end, just human life. The earth won't be worse for the change—all the current damage has been done by people. Now, earth's natural processes will have time to undo it.
Although humans built the technology, they're not important to it. The house continues functioning as it's programmed to do. The fact that humans aren't there to benefit from it is irrelevant.
Likewise, nature is uninterested in humans. The earth can't notice that humans are gone. Any animal or insect life that survived the blast can focus on its own survival without threat from people.
The same lack of regard is seen over the death of the dog which, as a domesticated animal living off humans, can be included in the human realm. It dies without anything caring, and is disposed of without ceremony. For the mechanical mice, it's no different from any other mess that needs cleaning.
Ultimately, humans need to care about their survival, because nothing else does.
1. How do the house and fire function as characters?
The house and fire are personified, which helps them to function as characters.
The house is full of mechanical voices. They also vary in tone, as a human voice would. The daily rhyming reminders and alerts have an uplifting, friendly tone. The emergency alert is a scream.
The mechanical mice are angry at the additional cleaning work the dog causes them.
The house is described as having an "old-maidenly preoccupation with self-protection."
The house's supporting structure is described as a skeleton. After each level and its contents collapse into each other, they end up "like skeletons thrown in a cluttered mound deep under," as if the house ends up in a grave.
It's mechanical components are likened to biological organisms: "its nerves [are] revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins and capillaries quiver."
Just before the fire breaks out, we're told, "At ten o'clock the house began to die."
It puts up an impressive fight to survive. It shoots out water and shuts the doors. It has backup faucets with foam to quench the flames.
As the house loses its battle, "One, two, three, four, five voices died . . . Ten more voices died."
When the fire has gotten out of control, the house panics as humans would. In a fit of confusion and chaos, all its voices and functions activate at the same time.
Likewise, the fire is personified as it engulfs the house.
Its "angry sparks" move it throughout the house.
It feeds on the paintings, lies in the beds, stands in the windows, rushes into closets and feels the clothes inside.
It's given a survival instinct when it backs off from the emergency faucets. It had the foresight to deal with this, though, because "the fire was clever. It had sent flame outside the house, up through the attic to the pumps there." It makes short work of this last line of defense.
2. Is there any irony in the story?
Here are some examples of irony:
- Technology is used to improve life and also destroy it.
- The house continues catering to people who aren't there anymore.
- Mrs. McClellan's favorite poem is about how nature wouldn't care if humans exterminated themselves.
- The house withstands a nuclear blast, but is destroyed by nature.
- The mechanical voice twice announces the date, which is only meaningful to humans.
3. Why does this house withstand the blast?
This can't be stated with certainty, but here's a possibility. This could have been the only house of its kind. The technology within it could be state-of-the-art. Perhaps that's why the outside resisted the blast.
The story supports the premise that not everyone has a house like this. Remember, the flames "fed upon Picassos and Matisses." This was a very wealthy family.
This leaves the problem of how how a tree branch was able to penetrate a house this strong. The kitchen window could have been on the side of the house, or near it, that took the brunt of the impact. It could have been weakened enough to allow the tree to break through.
4. How was the dog still alive?
The dog wasn't killed, but was in bad shape. It could have been inside this advanced house at the time of the explosion. When it eventually went outside, it succumbed to the radioactive aftereffects.