What effect does Sara Teasdale's poem "There Will Come Soft Rains" have on the short story by the same name written by Ray Bradbury"

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The story gets its title from the poem by Sara Teasdale.  The poem becomes a self-fulfiling prophecy.  By using a different type of literature in Teasdale’s poem, the theme of the story is reinforced.  No one cares that the family is burned into the side of the house.

“There Will Come Soft Rains“ by Ray Bradbury describes technology without  human beings.  The story is set in August, 2026 in Allendale, California.  A fully automated house continues to run despite the fact that the human inhabitants have died in a nuclear war. 

The third person narrator details the tasks of the mechanized house.  Trained to meet the needs of its owners, the house continues on with its work.  Since the unemotional house does not realize that the family is gone, the house follows its routine despite no breakfast is eaten and no one requests anything.

Without the human beings, the house is useless.  Although everything that is a part of its schedule is helpful, Bradbury points up the meaninglessness of the house with no family for which to cook or clean.  The house does take note of disruptions to its normal procedures: the unusual weather, the birds trying to land on it.

One particular event certainly takes the story in a different direction.  The family dog appears.  It is obviously suffering from radiation sickness.  Undergoing tremendous agony and out of its head, the dog returns home to die.  With no emotion, the dog’s corpse is quickly removed by the house’s automatons.  The theme of unemotional efficiency is emphasized when the house refuses to feed the dog who is starving to death.  The mice are aggravated by the carcass left to make a mess.

There are reminders of Hiroshima when the narrator elucidates the last acts of the family memorialized on the side of the house as though it were a mural painting.  In those last moments, the mother was picking flowers, the father was mowing the lawn, the children were playing ball, with the ball frozen in mid-air.  With the incredible heat, the family symbolically becomes a part of the house forever.

The day went by as always accept for the death of the dog.  At 9:05 p.m., the house’s voice asks for the choice of poem to be read.  With no answer, the house chooses the mother’s favorite by Sara Teasdale, “There Will Come Soft Rains.” While the poem is read, soft music plays in the background.

    And not one will know of the war, not one
    Will Care at last when it is done.

    Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
    If mankind perished utterly.

Of course, the house misses the irony.  For the house, nothing changes. The author warns humanity of the danger of too much dependence on the godless world of technology.  Technology is developed to help man; however, the technology does not care if man uses its services or not.  

At the end, the house is done for the day.  Suddenly, the nuclear wind causes the house to begin to burn.  Valiantly the house tries to save itself.  Without human assistance, it is not possible.  The house burns to the ground with only one wall left standing.  From the ashes, a last voice speaks over and over:

“Today is August 5, 2026. Today is August 5, 2026…"

Technology loses the battle just as mankind lost the World War long ago.


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