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There Will Come Soft Rains

by Ray Bradbury
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Do you think literature can serve a purpose in shaping people’s ideas about important subjects? Why or why not? Use Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" in your answer.

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Literature has always served a purpose in shaping people’s ideas about important subjects. One of the more recent examples was President Lincoln’s famous remark to Harriet Beecher Stowe, “So you're the little woman that started this great war!” Lincoln, of course, was referring to the influence of her novel Uncle...

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Literature has always served a purpose in shaping people’s ideas about important subjects. One of the more recent examples was President Lincoln’s famous remark to Harriet Beecher Stowe, “So you're the little woman that started this great war!” Lincoln, of course, was referring to the influence of her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published almost a decade before the start of the Civil War. It concerned popular sentiments regarding the institution of slavery. One could go back through history and observe innumerable examples of literature influencing or shaping popular opinions on important subjects.

There are many specific works of literature that leave lasting impressions on society. Without engaging in unsolvable debates on the religious or scholarly origins of books like the Bible and the Qu‘ran, consider the influence of such volumes on humanity’s evolution. How did Shakespeare’s writings on subjects as diverse as early Rome, medieval Venice, and British history shape perceptions of time and place? How have the writings of Homer influenced our collective unconscious? Literature has always influenced ideas. One of the uglier examples from recent history is the enduring influence of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forged document originating in early 20th-century Russia that continues to be used by racists and anti-Semites to target people of the Jewish faith.

Ray Bradbury’s short story, published in 1950, reflected the times in which it was written. Only five years before its publication, two atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leaving the most horrific imagery that had been seen up to that point globally. As Bradbury was shaping his ideas about the near and distant futures, the world continued to wage war and develop constantly more destructive weaponry. The Soviet Union had just detonated its first atomic bomb, and the Cold War was the defining feature of global affairs. Anti-communist sentiments were reaching a fever pitch and the next, and most destructive war ever, was envisioned by many thinkers. Most believed it would end with the final destruction of humanity. All of this was in the air when Bradbury wrote “There Will Come Soft Rains.”

Bradbury’s story is about a futuristic world recently destroyed by a nuclear war. It deals with the very contingency on the minds of hundreds of millions of people at the time of publication. It begins with a description of a futuristic family home in which automation completes all activities. Soon, it becomes apparent that there are no people actually living in this house; all the automation continues oblivious to this fact. As the narrative progresses, the author provides important details that were drawn directly from recent news stories about the effects of the atomic bombings of Japan, in which the shadows of Japanese citizens were frozen in time by the instantaneous effects of the bombs:

“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.”

In addition to the events and atmosphere of the time described above, Bradbury was also influenced by a poem by Sara Teasdale written as World War I was drawing to an end. World War I was a conflict of unparalleled destruction and savagery, with the introduction of automatic weapons and, most frighteningly, chemical weapons among the developments featured. Teasdale’s poem begins with a beautiful vision of nature, with “swallows circling” and “frogs in the pools singing at night.” As with Bradbury’s later story, the benign imagery soon gives way to a vision of the end of humanity, brought about by its own convictions:

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;

Teasdale’s poem influenced Bradbury. Bradbury’s story, along with the writings of many others within the genre of science fiction, helped to shape people’s ideas about important subjects. They were especially influential in thought about the threat of nuclear war and the destruction of humanity.

As with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s influence on Lincoln and others of her time, journalist and author Richard Preston famously influenced the thoughts of then-President William "Bill" Clinton. The president had read Preston's novel The Cobra Event about a pandemic and requested the Federal Bureau of Investigation to research the viability of the author’s scenario. Literature has effects, both positive and negative, on how people perceive reality.

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