What social developments may have influenced Ray Bradbury's story "There Will Come Soft Rains"?
Various developments in society clearly influenced the composition of Ray Bradbury’s short story “There Will Come Soft Rains.” The story seems to have been written both to reflect and to predict important social changes.
One social development obviously relevant to Bradbury’s story is the rise of technological innovation in the first half of the twentieth century and especially in the 1940s. Partly the developments of the 1940s were spurred by World War II, which stimulated a great deal of technological innovation. Even since 1900, however, Americans and people in other industrialized countries had seen their lives transformed thanks to such innovations as the automobile, the airplane, the radio, and other inventions. Each of these inventions was continuously improved, and there was good reason to think that such improvements would only get better and better as time went on. Therefore, it was hardly fanciful of Bradbury to imagine some of the technological developments featured in this story. At one point, for instance, the narrator describes the method by which the house is cleaned:
Out of warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted. The rooms were acrawl with the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They thudded against chairs, whirling their mustached runners, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at hidden dust. Then, like mysterious invaders, they popped into their burrows. Their pink electric eyes faded. The house was clean.
At the time when Bradbury was writing, vacuum cleaners were becoming increasingly common and increasingly sophisticated. Many of Bradbury’s original readers, however, must have longed for the day when such cleaners would work entirely on their own, without any human assistance. That day, however, must have seemed a long way off. Yet today, of course, we have vacuum cleaners (such as the “Roomba”) that operate very much as Bradbury imagined. They cannot, admittedly, operate entirely without human assistance, but the assistance required is now minimal.
Another development taking place in the society of the late 1940s that is reflected in Bradbury’s story is the development of better fire prevention systems. The development of such systems had actually begun in the early 1800s, but by the 1940s they had become increasingly common in businesses and factories. It was just a matter of time (Bradbury assumed) until they would be regular fixtures in houses as well. Thus the narrator reports that when a blaze breaks out in the home he has been describing, a fire prevention system kicks into immediate operation:
"Fire!" screamed a voice. The house lights flashed, water pumps shot water from the ceilings. But the solvent [which had caused the accidental fire in the first place] spread on the linoleum, licking, eating, under the kitchen door, while the voices took it up in chorus: "Fire, fire, fire!"
Systems of the sort described here are quite common today, especially in office buildings, commercial establishments, schools, and skyscrapers. Such systems have not yet become standard features of most homes, but smoke alarms are now routine and even, in some places, required. Thus Bradbury describes a technological innovation that had become increasingly common in the society of his time and that seems likely to become even more common in the society of the future.