What are examples of personification in "There Will Come Soft Rains," and how does that personification affect the story?

In "There Will Come Soft Rains," Ray Bradbury uses personification to turn an automated house into a compelling character in its own right, providing it with a sense of personality. At the same time, he also uses personification to turn a fire, which is in reality an inanimate force of nature, into an overwhelming antagonist against the house.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Personification refers to the ascribing of human characteristics on non-human objects. Given that Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" is centered around an automated house as its main character, you might identify the entire story as an example of personification at a grand scale. After all, the house (ultimately an inanimate object) is provided with a sense of personality and tragedy within its existence, as it continues to exist in a post-human world. To create this effect, we see examples such as the following:

Until this day, how well the house had kept its peace. How carefully it had inquired, "Who goes there? What's the password?" and, getting no answer from lonely foxes and whining cats, it had shut up its windows and drawn shades in an old-maidenly preoccupation with self-protection which bordered on a mechanical paranoia.

Thus, one can say that personification is central to the very structure of the work. For Bradbury to effectively create, in this automated house, a compelling character in its own right, personification becomes a necessary tool for creating that effect.

What is important to keep in mind, however, is that Bradbury's use of personification actually extends beyond the house that is the story's main character. As this story moves closer toward its conclusion, we find ourselves reading about the death of this house, as it is destroyed by a fire, and just as the house is given a sense of personality, so is the fire. Consider the following excerpt from the text:

The fire crackled up the stairs. It fed upon Picassos and Matisses in the upper halls, like delicacies, baking off the oily flesh, tenderly crisping the canvases into black shavings.

Now the fire lay in beds, stood in windows, changed the colors of drapes!

A little later, Bradbury's writing will suggest that the fire acts almost as if it has an intelligence about it, as it outmaneuvers the house's defenses, even stating that "the fire was clever." When writing this scene, Bradbury seems to present the fire itself as a ravenous and cunning enemy, overwhelming the house's defenses. In this depiction of the fire, we see the additional use of personification in this story.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Bradbury makes frequent use of personification, attributing personal or human-like traits to a number of inanimate objects in the story.

In some cases, Bradbury describes inanimate objects as if they possess body parts, and he characterizes their physical actions and reactions in human terms. We can see this when the house is burning:

"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."

In other cases, Bradbury attributes mental and emotional states to objects, as in this description:

"…it had shut up its windows and drawn shades in an old-maidenly preoccupation with self-protection which bordered on a mechanical paranoia."

How does personification affect the story?

A good way to approach this question is to ask how different the story would feel if Bradbury had portrayed his inanimate objects without making any reference to human traits.

Clearly, personification invites us to feel a certain empathy for these objects. It's one reason why this story evokes an emotional response in the reader.

But these elements of personification do more than lend immediate emotional color to an action. Psychologists argue that when we attribute human characteristics to an object, we are encouraging the mind to tap into our broader understanding of how human beings think, feel, and behave.

If the house is merely an automated house, then its behavior is simply a series of mechanical operations, and the story is just a tale of a machine left running because nobody turned it off. But if we think of the house as a person, then it has a psychology, and its behavior can be perceived in many other ways  --  as confused, irrational, or uncomprehending in the wake of abandonment. It keeps making meals that nobody eats; it reads poems that nobody hears. What kinds of human situations does this evoke? How do the events of the story relate to things we have experienced or witnessed?

So Bradbury's use of personification doesn't just make us respond to the immediate meaning of his metaphors ("the fire was clever"). It also leads us to go beyond the words he uses, and associate his objects with a wider range of thoughts, motives, and feelings.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Even though there are no living human characters in Ray Bradbury's 1950 story, he creates pathos through personifying certain elements of an automated house. In a post-apocalyptic California, the house continues to serve a family apparently killed by a nuclear blast. Some of the machines, like the clock and the weather box, are described as "singing," and the stove and incinerator sigh; it is poignant that no one is there to hear them.

When the family's dying dog tracks mud into the house, "behind it whirred angry mice, angry at having to pick up mud, angry at inconvenience." The house expresses human emotions as it is ultimately consumed by fire: "the voices wailed Fire, fire, run, run, like a tragic nursery rhyme, a dozen voices, high, low, like children." 

The destruction of the house echoes the destruction of humanity, with one last voice emerging from the rubble to witness "today is August 5, 2026," with no one left to hear. The effect that Bradbury creates is a cautionary tale about the risks of mankind's overreach in the new atomic age.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial