Bradbury’s tale, devoid of human characters and concerned with failed technology, presents several themes that explore the dark side of the symbiotic relationship between people and their inventions.
Individual vs. Machine
Although the tragedy in this story has already taken place by the time the story opens, it is actually the conflict between human beings and the machines they create that is at the heart of this story. In Bradbury’s view, people put too much faith in the machines they invent. People have the power to create devices that can destroy themselves, but they have not enacted any measures to prevent this from happening. Bradbury believes that technology is a very wondrous—yet also very dangerous—thing. He illustrates technology’s marvels: a house that can clean itself and take care of its inhabitants. On the other hand, technology has also transformed the house’s family into nothing but carbon shadows. By writing a story with no human interaction, Bradbury demonstrates the sterility of a world without people. The computerized house has no feelings—it cannot love and it cannot hate—it can only be programmed. Likewise, the nuclear bomb that killed the family had no inherent emotions; it simply did what it was created to do. In this world of “morally neutral” technology, Bradbury proposes that humankind is destroyed by its own hubris, or self-confidence. Once a machine’s creator is dispensed with, like the house’s family, the machine is empty and meaningless.
Nature vs. Science
Despite the horror inflicted by science upon the earth in “There Will Come Soft Rains,” nature is shown to be an even more powerful force. Humans have created a bomb that destroys them all and a house that is incapable of being destroyed by the bomb. But fire, a force of nature, is able to destroy the house. In the end, the earth, though damaged, still exists. By describing this continuity, Bradbury points out his belief: that the earth was around long before humankind and it will be around long after. From this perspective, the folly of inventing machines that will overrule nature is exposed. Nothing is more powerful than nature, so humans are doomed to destroying only lesser powers, such as themselves.
Death and Fear
By setting the story in a time of human extinction, Bradbury plays upon people’s fear of death. He imagines the world without humans, telling readers that they have been reduced to shadow outlines on buildings. For those who have seen photographs of the atomic destruction that ended World War II, they are vivid and horrifying images. An ominous realization this brings about is the fact that even without people, the world will continue. Nature is indifferent to human existence, Bradbury proposes. This realization should instill a healthy fear in people and trigger their instinct for self-preservation. If people realize the tenuousness of their existence, Bradbury seems to say, perhaps they will take precautions to insure they are not eradicated, least of all by their own technology.
The fear of dying is closely related to fear of killing. Bradbury, like many people during the 1950s and early 1960s, feared that if political leaders no longer feared killing their enemies, then human existence is doomed. This lack of fear was the philosophy behind nuclear proliferation and the concept of mutually assured destruction, which states that nuclear war will not happen if a country is guaranteed to be destroyed by the country it attacks. Thus, moral regard for others’ lives would not be a factor in the decision to annihilate millions of people. It is only the thought of being killed themselves that prevents leaders from making a single phone call that could launch thousands of nuclear missiles.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Ray Bradbury, Published by Gale, 1997.