Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The essential subject of Eating People Is Wrong is not difficult to identify; it is the fate of liberal humanism in a post-liberal humanist age-a subject that recurs in Bradbury’s later novels, in many of his stories and television plays, and in his literary and social criticism. Determining where exactly Bradbury stands in relation to this theme is more difficult to pin down. Rather than taking one side or the other, rather than presenting merely opposing sides, Bradbury instead chooses to adopt much the same liberal humanist ambivalence that leads Treece to his seriocomic fate: Emma “walked away and he lay there in his bed, and felt as though this would be his condition for evermore, and that from this he would never, never escape.” As was noted earlier, the narrative structure of parallel, or repetitive, scenes implies a similar closure, which appears evident as well in the way the novel’s tragicomic elements compete with and eventually largely supplant the clearly comic. What all this suggests is that even while Bradbury is busy critiquing the liberal humanist position, he tends to regard it nevertheless as the best possible alternative to that which has supplanted it, even as he recognizes how little chance it has of succeeding, its failure having been brought about not only by outside forces but also from within by the weakness of its advocates, including Emma and especially Treece.