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Ray Bradbury’s short story “There Will Come Soft Rains” reflects the era in which it was written in a number of different ways, including in its allusions to the contemporary political situation of the late 1940s. (The story was originally published in 1950.)
One way in which the story reflects the political situation of the late 1940s is in its allusions to nuclear warfare. Such warfare had been practiced by the United States against Japan in August 1945 in an effort to bring World War II to an end, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (two Japanese cities) were instrumental in convincing the Japanese government to surrender. Bradbury’s story imagines a time in which the tables are turned and the United States itself suffers an atomic attack – a real possibility since, by the time his story was written, other nations had also acquired nuclear weapons. In the most explicit allusion to atomic attack in the story, the narrator notes that
The entire west face of the house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here, as in a photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and opposite him a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down. The five spots of paint—the man, the woman, the children, the ball—remained. The rest was a thin charcoaled layer.
Clearly these sentences describe the aftermath of an atomic attack. The people whose silhouettes are preserved on the side of the otherwise blackened house were obviously killed while in the midst of ordinary, everyday activities. They were destroyed in “one titanic instant,” and now all that is left of them are stark images of their very last moments in time. They had no time to prepare for their destruction, no warning that it was due, no chance to avoid it. It came in an instant, and they were gone.
Another aspect of the story that implies an atomic holocaust appears when the narrator describes the fate of the family dog. The dog returns to the house after the atomic explosion has taken place, looking sickly and covered with mud. Later the narrator reports that
The dog frothed at the mouth, lying at the door, sniffing, its eyes turned to fire. It ran wildly in circles, biting at its tail, spun in a frenzy, and died. It lay in the parlor for an hour.
The dog’s bizarre behavior implies that it is horrifically ill, probably from radiation sickness. Death from radiation poisoning was in some ways even worse than immediate death from an atomic blast itself. Those who died in the first split seconds after the blast had little time to suffer, but the dog’s death is an example of the excruciating pain that could be felt by those who were “lucky” enough to survive the initial blast.
Bradbury’s story paints of very bleak picture of the horrors that many people feared might very well result if the contemporary political situation of the late 1940s led to further atomic war. Obviously his story is designed as a warning, intended to help prevent the very horrors it so graphically describes.
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