A Sound of Thunder

by Ray Bradbury

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What are some examples of literary devices in Ray Bradbury's "A Sound Of Thunder"?

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Ray Bradbury had a very florid writing style, rich in description and metaphor, and "A Sound of Thunder" is no exception. Consider the following passage, when Bradbury describes the Tyrannosaurus:

It came on great oiled, resilient, striding legs. It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker's claws close to its oily reptilian chest. Each lower leg was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, sunk in thick ropes of muscle, sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior. Each thigh was a ton of meat, ivory and steel mesh. (Bradbury, "A Sound of Thunder")

Note how dense and visual that description is. That density of imagery, metaphor, and descriptive language is one of the hallmarks of Bradbury's writing style. One can find similar passages across this story, and across Bradbury's larger body of work.

In addition, you can also find allusions in this story. Consider the scene when Travis describes the repercussions of changing the past. Here, Bradbury writes:

It is comparable to slaying some of Adam's grandchildren...With the death of that one cave man, a billion others yet unborn are throttled in the womb. Perhaps Rome never rises on its seven hills. Perhaps Europe is forever a dark forest, and only Asia waxes healthy and teeming. Step on a mouse and you crush the Pyramids. Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity. Queen Elizabeth might never be born, Washington might never cross the Delaware, there might never be a United States at all. So be careful. Stay on the Path. Never step off! (Bradbury, "A Sound of Thunder")

Note the various references Bradbury makes in this passage: he mentions Adam (referring to the story of Adam and Eve), along with Ancient Rome, the Pyramids, Queen Elizabeth, and George Washington, but he does so in passing (without explaining the intricacies of who he is referring to or why he is making that reference to begin with). These are all examples of allusions.

Finally, I think Bradbury's use of foils is also worth discussing. Observe the contrasts between Eckels and Travis. Eckels is a tourist paying Time Safari to take him to the Cretaceous, whereas Travis works for Time Safari as a guide. Eckels, despite his enthusiasm about going hunting in the past, is anxious and high strung. Travis, on the other hand, is composed, confident and decisive. Travis has far greater awareness as to the risks of time travel, and has to explain those risks to Eckels. Finally, as the story concludes, we see Travis killing Eckels, after Eckels has accidentally altered history.

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“A Sound of Thunder” is a short story in the science-fiction genre written by Ray Bradbury in 1952. The plot centers around Eckels, a wealthy adventurer who pays $10,000 in 2055 to join a time traveling hunting party to kill a Tyrannosaurus rex. During the trip, Eckels falls off the path and kills a butterfly, which disrupts the subsequent history of the world. Upon returning to 2055, the party notices multiple differences in the world that they left, especially the election of fascist Deutscher.

Some examples of literary devices are point-of-view and foreshadowing.

The short story is told in the third-person limited point of view. In this point of view, the narrator is not one of the characters. The limited perspective is significant because the narrator is not all-knowing, and the reader cannot see into the thoughts and motives of all characters. This helps keep the reader off balance and in the dark with regard to not knowing as much information as possible.

Foreshadowing occurs in the beginning of the story when Eckels is discussing the recent election win by Keith. He is relived that Keith has defeated the fascist Deutscher. This conversation right after the Time Safari official warns him about the dangers associated with time travel. This foreshadowing comes back on the end of the story when it’s revealed in the alternate reality because of Eckels killing of the butterfly.

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Other literary devices employed by Bradbury are as follows:

  • Irony - specifically, verbal irony as something is said that has the opposite effect.

e.g. As Eckels talks in the office to Time Safari official, he is told of the dangers of the Time Machine, and he remarks,

"Makes you think, if the election had gone badly yesterday, I might be here now running away from the results. Thank God Keith won. He'll make a fine President...."

Of course, as it turns out, Deutscher, the opponent, later has won. Later, too, Eckels forgets what the official tells him about: that he is going into the jungle of sixty million two thousand and fifty-five years before President Keith" because when he returns to the ship after having stepped off the gravity path, he ironically says, "I'm innocent. I've done nothing"

  • Personification - The attribution of human traits to that which is non-human.  e.g. "The Machine howled....The Machine slowed; its scream fell to a murmur.    "Time steps aside." 
  • simile - A stated comparison using the words like or as. e.g. Eckels remarks on going back in time to hunt, "This makes Africa seem like Illinois"   "Time steps aside (personification). Like (simile) an airplane hitting an air pocket." "I'm shaking like a kid." "There was a sound like a gigantic bonfire."  "...like golden slamanders, the old years, the green years (also a metaphor for early years), might leap."
  • figurative language - Language used for more than its literal meaning. e.g. "They sat in the ancient wilderness. Far birds' cries blew on a wind, and the smell of tar and an old salt sea, moist grasses, and flowers the color of blood."
  • metaphor - An ustated comparison. The jungle was the entire world forever and forever."  "...pterodactyls soaring with cavernous gray wings, gigantic bats of delirium and night fever. "A sound of thunder" = the T-Rex. "the seed death, the green death,..." "Trees exploded in clouds of leaf and branch." "The Monster twitches its jeweler's hands down..."
  • alliteration - The repetition of initial consonant sounds. e.g. " ...glistening green and gold and...." /g/
  • double entendre - A wording that is understood in two ways. e.g. "A sound of thunder" first means the sound of the dinosaur's step; then it means the firing of the rifle that kills Eckels.
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Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" possesses many literary devices (also called poetic or rhetorical devices). 

Personification: the giving of human traits to non-living/non-human things. 

An example fo personification is found in the opening sentence: "The sign on the wall seemed to quaver." To quaver means to quiver because of weakness. Human beings can falter because of weakness, signs cannot. 

Imagery: the formation of mental images based upon the descriptions provided by the author. The better an author appeals to the senses of the reader, the better the mental image. 

The opening of the story provides a very distinct image: "The sign on the wall seemed to quaver under a film of sliding warm water. Eckels felt his eyelids blink over his stare, and the sign burned in this momentary darkness." Here, the reader is able to create a very distinct mental picture of the scene the author has provided for them. 

Metaphor: the comparison of two typically dissimilar things. 

"Time was a film run backward." Here, time is compared to a film running backward.

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