How does not knowing the exact time increase the suspense in “There Will Come Soft Rains”?

Not knowing the exact time increases suspense by creating disorientation and tension. As a talking clock in a deserted automated house chants the time, the reader wonders what will happen next. Morning hours pass, building up suspense as the fate of the former human occupants is revealed. More time passes as a dog appears and dies. Finally, calm afternoon hours lead into a catastrophic night where the house is destroyed.

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In the science-fiction tale “There Will Come Soft Rains,” Ray Bradbury demonstrates how technology eerily survives despite the destruction of humanity and nature after a nuclear apocalypse. The day begins at seven o’clock on the morning of August 4, 2026 in a deserted, mechanically animated house. Right from the start and throughout the narrative, a clock chants the time of day, creating a sensation of relentlessly passing time. The effects on the reader are disorientation and suspense.

The story opens with:

In the living room the voice-clock sang, Tick-tock, seven o'clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o 'clock! as if it were afraid that nobody would. The morning house lay empty. The clock ticked on, repeating and repeating its sounds into the emptiness. Seven-nine, breakfast time, seven-nine!

The reader does not know why the house is eerily empty, where the occupants are, and who the breakfast is for. Yet time simply marches on as the reader wonders if and when any human will appear.

In fact, despite the clock repeatedly singing out different times throughout day, the reader never knows the exact time because it keeps changing at irregular intervals. The passage of time creates tension. Suddenly it is just past eight o'clock and no one is there to leave for school or work. Then time passes as the mechanically made breakfast dries up, dishes are washed automatically, and robot mice clean the house. Still no one appears.

By ten o'clock, Bradbury reveals that this house has withstood a nuclear blast and is the only one left. The reader soon sees spooky imprints of the family that resided in the house and are now dead:

Ten-fifteen. The garden sprinklers whirled up in golden founts, filling the soft morning air with scatterings of brightness…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.

The next point of suspense is at twelve noon, when an emaciated, radiation-burned dog appears and enters the house. The reader watches as the poor creature runs through the house and wonders what will happen to it and what it will do. Marks of passing time chronicle the animal's grotesque demise and cremation:

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.

Two o'clock, sang a voice.

Delicately sensing decay at last, the regiments of mice hummed out as softly as blown gray leaves in an electrical wind.

Two-fifteen.

The dog was gone.

In the cellar, the incinerator glowed suddenly and a whirl of sparks leaped up the chimney.

During the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, the house and its objects hum along smoothly yet eerily without any human or animal presence. Technology has taken over efficiently, leaving the reader in suspense and in anticipation of the next disturbing event. Everything seems to be working too well; things are too good to be true. Then,

At ten o'clock the house began to die.

The personified house tries to “save itself” as the malicious fire invades and destroys it. The clock no longer exists to chant the time of day, so the reader really does not know what time it is, just that minutes and hours progress ceaselessly. And during the seemingly endless night, tension increases as the house and all its objects frantically operate, with

a thousand things happening, like a clock shop when each clock strikes the hour insanely before or after the other, a scene of maniac confusion.

The build-up of disorientation and suspense coupled with the destruction of the time-keeping clock culminates with the house exploding and then imploding. Even at the end, the date is unclear as a disembodied voice calls from the rubble:

Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is—

Ultimately, haywire technology outlasts man, a nuclear bomb, and fire.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

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