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Ray Bradbury’s short story “There Will Come Soft Rains,” first published in 1950, reflects various aspects of its author’s life of the late 1940s.
One way in which Bradbury’s story reflects Bradbury’s life in the late 1940s involves the story’s allusions to marriage and children. Bradbury married Marguerite McClure in late 1947, and their first child, Susan, was born in 1949. Thus, at precisely the time when Bradbury was creating a story describing the horrific destruction of a family, Bradbury himself was starting a family of his own. One of the most memorable passages of Bradbury’s story is the one that depicts the abrupt incineration of an entire family in an atomic holocaust:
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.
It must have been easy for Bradbury, when he was writing these sentences, to imagine himself, his wife, and his young daughter being destroyed in a similar fashion. Fear of atomic warfare was widespread in the 1940s, and Bradbury would have been a very unusual person if the thought of dying in a nuclear war did not cross his own mind at this time. Indeed, the mere existence of this story is evidence that the prospect of such a war had been the subject of some of Bradbury’s thinking. Yet it was one thing to imagine one’s own death in such a war, and something far more horrible to imagine the death of one’s wife and child.
Another way in which Bradbury’s story seems relevant to his own life is that the story is set in California. Bradbury could easily have set the story in Europe, in Asia, or in some other part of the United States. Instead, he sets it in the very state in which he was living at the time. The story’s events take place “in the city of Allendale, California.” Such a city really existed at the time Bradbury wrote; it was located not far from San Francisco. In fact, at one point, Bradbury’s narrator reports that
At eight-thirty the eggs were shriveled and the toast was like stone. An aluminum wedge scraped them into the sink, where hot water whirled them down a metal throat which digested and flushed them away to the distant sea.
Bradbury thus sets his story in a California location close enough to the ocean that its garbage is disposed of in the Pacific. At the time when Bradbury was composing this story, he himself was living very near the California coast, within greater Los Angeles. Thus he sets the tale in the kind of California location with which he was himself quite personally familiar. The story thus reflects the social and political conditions of the time in which it was written, but it also reflects various aspects of its author’s own life.
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