illustration of a nature scene with a bird in the grass next to a puddle that shows a translucent reflection of a human

There Will Come Soft Rains

by Ray Bradbury
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What are the allusions in "There Will Come Soft Rains"?

The allusions in "There Will Come Soft Rains" include references to a folk song from the 1600s, an early-twentieth-century poem written following WWI, a biblical entity, and Modern European art.

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An allusion is a reference in a piece of literature to another work of writing or to a cultural or historical event.

The main allusion is to Sara Teasdale's poem "There Will Come Soft Rains." Part of this poem, about nature's indifference to humankind, is quoted in the story:

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

The poem, like Bradbury's story, is a cautionary tale about human pride: we need to be careful about how we behave, because there is no guarantee we will survive as a species.

The image of the bodies of the family etched into the wall of the house is taken directly from John Hersey's bestselling 1946 book Hiroshima. Hersey uses the image of vaporized bodies etched into walls twice in the book, and it is one of the most famous images associated with his work. Using this image, Bradbury makes clear that a nuclear war is what destroyed this civilization. It is also shorthand for all the horrors people at that time associated with atomic warfare, an allusion that would have been very clear to those reading the short story when it was first published in 1950.

Bradbury uses rats and snakes as part of the technology of the house. Both are animals associated with the dark side, and Bradbury also alludes to the home's incinerator as Baal, a false god in the Jewish and Christian tradition. These allusions associate technology with evil.

The Picasso and Matisse paintings allude to important modern art of the twentieth century. The fire, a symbol of nature, feeds on them "like delicacies," reinforcing the idea that nature cares nothing about preserving humankind's achievements.

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One of the first allusions found in Ray Bradbury's short story is found in the automated voice that emanates from the weather box, singing, "rain, rain go away." It is a variation on a folk song from seventeenth-century England and is traditional in the US as well.

The major allusion from which the story takes its title is a 1918 poem by American poet Sara Teasdale. The theme of the poem is that nature will endure long after mankind has destroyed itself with its propensity toward violence and war. Ray Bradbury imbues his story with a similar theme; it is man's violence that has destroyed humanity, leaving only burned silhouettes where people used to be. Bradbury's story is also a cautionary tale about the folly of expanding mankind's interest in and dependence on technology. It ultimately becomes dehumanizing, taking over everything from food preparation to cleaning to childrearing, leaving very little for humans to look after on their own.

The narrator likens the incinerator in the basement of the house to Baal, a Canaanite god. Presumably, the incinerator, which removes all traces of life, is another manifestation of the machines that man makes to create destruction.

When the house begins to burn, the works of Modern painters Picasso and Matisse are engulfed; alluding to them may be Bradbury's statement about how even masterpieces created by mankind will be destroyed, while nature will live on in humanity's absence.

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An allusion is a reference to a well known person, place, event, literary work, or work of art. There are three important allusions in Ray Bradbury's short story "There Will Come Soft Rains." First, Bradbury alludes to the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima in 1945 when he reveals that the images of four people and a ball have been imprinted in charcoal on one wall of the automated house:

The entire west face of the house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here, as in a photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and opposite him a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down.

Photographs of these types of images were taken in the aftermath of the attack on Hiroshima. Bradbury also alludes to Hiroshima by making the date August 5, 2026. The date of the original bombing of Japan was August 6, 1945. By making the date the fifth, Bradbury may be suggesting that more attacks are on the way, just as a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later in 1945.

A second allusion is to the poem of the same name which is significant because Sara Teasdale's "There Will Come Soft Rains" envisions a world devoid of human beings. In her poem, however, the animals, trees and birds are still alive, never noticing the absence of humans. Teasdale even suggests they may be better off without mankind. Likewise, the automated house never seems to notice that there is no human presence as it goes on with its daily routine.

Finally, Bradbury mentions the modernist artists Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Their paintings are consumed in the fire which destroys the house. The artistic visions of Picasso and Matisse are considered harbingers of the modern world, the world which would ultimately create the technology that is used in the house and which is responsible for the invention of atomic weapons. One might wonder if one of the paintings was Picasso's famous interpretation of an air raid on the Spanish city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The painting depicts a frightening scene with distorted and twisted bodies, some looking with horror at the sky above.

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