In "There Will Come Soft Rains," what can you infer about the lives of the former inhabitants?
What a great question. We can infer many things from the story. The house is almost all electronic; everything is done for the inhabitants, and one of the saddest aspects of the story is the way the house continues to "live" and make meals, clean, etc., long after the inhabitants have died from the nuclear bomb. So we know that they were affluent and benefited from many labor-saving devices. We know that the house even read poems electronically to at least one of the member of the family.
The poem that is read is Sara Teasdale's "There Will Come Soft Rains" (the source of the story's title). This tells us that the woman who listens to the poem enjoys poetry--but we must ask ourselves if she really understands what she's been reading. Implicit in the Teasdale poem is a warning that everything will continue when humankind is gone. This, ironically, is exactly what happens in the story; however, instead of "nature" continuing as in the Teasdale poem, the house's automatic devices go on until the raging fire destroys the house itself.
Prior to the fire we also see the spots from the instant nuclear devastation that let us know the family was reasonably happy--playing ball outside with the dog. But their happiness may be seen as a kind of complacency since they were unaware of the danger of nuclear war. We must ask ourselves is having all the labor-saving devices, living in a beautiful modern home, and having a happy family life is truly enough to live a good life. Their lives were snatched away from them, possibly because of their ignorance and complacency in the face of the nuclear threat.
Bradbury's futuristic short story, "There Will Come Soft Rains," presents a world in which the quotidian humanity has been removed. For, it is the technologically-advanced house that expresses human action. Examples of this assumed humanity that characterizes the machinery of the house are evident throughout the narrative. The "voice-clock sang," the garage "lifted its door," the tiny robot mice "darted," and "thudded against chairs," "popped into their burrows" where their "pink electric eyes faded."
Outside, the charred figures of the residents of the house have their images burned into wood, revealing their last actions. The boy and girl were playing ball, the mother picking flowers. They are nothing but shadow of themselves, just as they have been mere shadows of human beings when alive. It is, after all, the house that is the person:
It quivered at each sound, the house did....
[When the house catches fire] The house tried to save itself....The house gave ground as the fire in ten billion angry sparks moved ....
The house shuddered, oak bone on bone, its bared skeleton cringing from the heat, its wire, its nerves revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins and capillaries quiver in the scalded air. Help, help!...And the voices wailed Fire, fire, run, run, ....And the voices fading as the wires popped their sheathings like hot chestnuts.
Clearly, it is the house that has assumed human qualities while the humans have been subsumed into the technological world of Bradbury's narrative.