Imagery in “The Veldt” effectively creates emotions of comfort, then suspense, fear, and horror in the reader. Various types of imagery (visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory) heighten the realism of this surreal world.
Initially, the house seems like a safe crib that pampers its inhabitants, the Hadleys. George and Lydia walk through an expensive, futuristic Happylife Home that
clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them. Their approach sensitized a switch somewhere and the nursery light flicked on when they came within ten feet of it. Similarly, behind them, in the halls, lights went on and off as they left them behind, with a soft automaticity.
This passage includes text reminiscent of a gentle touch (e.g., “clothed,” “rocked them to sleep,” “sensitized,” “soft automaticity”) as well as placidity in sound (“sang,” “flicked,” “soft automaticity”). Creepily maternal, the house addresses their needs as if they were helpless infants that need to be appeased and shielded from hardship.
Imagery abruptly changes, however, as the parents enter their children’s playroom. Instead of childlike innocence, this room projects ominous foreboding. When George and Lydia step into the room, it appears empty and plain before eerily transforming into an African veldt.
The ceiling above them became a deep sky with a hot yellow sun .… hidden odorophonics were beginning to blow a wind of odor at the two people in the middle of the baked veldtland. The hot straw smell of lion grass, the cool green smell of the hidden water hole, the great rusty smell of animals, the smell of dust like a red paprika in the hot air. And now the sounds: the thump of distant antelope feet on grassy sod, the papery rustling of vultures. A shadow passed through the sky. The shadow flickered on George Hadley’s upturned, sweating face.
Visual imagery creates an environment that contrasts the earlier safe interior. For example, the sky and sun convey outdoor brightness; grass, the water hole, and distant animals fill out this natural wilderness scene. Repetitive tactile details (e.g., the hot sun, baked soil, the hot straw, the hot air) build up oppressive heat that is hardly relieved by cool air around the water hole. Olfactory imagery further immerses the reader into this setting with body odors of animals and smells of grass, standing water, sod, and dust. Auditory imagery of blowing wind, thumping feet, and rustling wings complete the reader’s experience. Finally, the shadow of vultures cast onto George’s face creates suspense. The reader becomes alert and waits for something to happen.
Imagery of an impending lion attack generates genuine fear in both the characters and the reader. George and Lydia notice
lions now, fifteen feet away, so real, so feverishly and startlingly real that you could feel the prickling fur on your hand, and your mouth was stuffed with the dusty upholstery smell of their heated pelts, and the yellow of them was in your eyes like the yellow of an...
exquisite French tapestry, the yellows of lions and summer grass, and the sound of the matted lion lungs exhaling on the silent noontide, and the smell of meat from the panting, dripping mouths.
Again, visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory imagery pull the reader into this frightening, charged scene of looming violence. Although George and Lydia narrowly escape the lion’s attack this time, disturbing images later foreshadow their ultimate and grisly deaths. First, George spots his wallet on the ground.
The smell of hot grass was on it and the smell of a lion. There were drops of saliva on it, it bad been chewed, and there were blood smears on both sides.
Then, their friend David McClean finds Lydia’s bloody scarf on the floor. These horrifying images portend the children’s vengeful release of fierce, hungry lions on their parents in order to preserve their playroom. Imagery in the closing scene confirms their parents’ fates and foreshadows David’s death.
At a distance Mr. McClean saw the lions fighting and clawing and then quieting down to feed in silence under the shady trees.He squinted at the lions with his hand tip to his eyes.Now the lions were done feeding. They moved to the water hole to drink.A shadow flickered over Mr. McClean’s hot face. Many shadows flickered. The vultures were dropping down the blazing sky.