Personification is a literary device in which a thing, animal, or inanimate object is given human attributes in order to add an aesthetic quality to the narrative and contribute to the author's description. Ray Bradbury continually personifies George and Lydia Hadley's Happylife Home throughout his celebrated short story "The Veldt." The Happylife Home is a completely automated, technologically advanced smart home which performs everyday functions. The home cooks, cleans, bathes, and entertains the Hadley family. Unfortunately, the Hadleys have become over-reliant on technology, and the Happylife Home begins to replace George and Lydia as parents. Lydia expresses her displeasure and personifies the home by saying,
The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid.
By personifying the house as wife, mother, and nursemaid, Lydia is implying that the house functions as a caring, helpful member of their family. Another example of personification takes place when Bradbury writes,
George Hadley walked through the singing glade and picked up something that lay in the corner near where the lions had been.
The glade is personified and given the human attribute of speech when Bradbury writes that it is "singing." This use of personification influences the reader to view the glade as a peaceful, lively setting. Another example of personification takes place when Bradbury writes,
And although their beds tried very hard, the two adults couldn’t be rocked to sleep for another hour.
The beds are personified and given the human attribute of effort when they try "very hard" to rock the adults to sleep. Overall, Bradbury's use of personification contributes to the description of the automated Happylife Home, which completely replaces George and Lydia as parents.
The technologically advanced Happylife Home seems to function as a person because of all it does for the family. Some images of personification, or describing the house as if it is a person, are the following:
[the house] clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.
This implies the house is like a nanny or parent to the family, even the adults. It also implies that the house infantilizes them.
Lydia herself personifies the house when she says to George,
"The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid."
George speaks to the dining room table, and it responds as if it is a person:
“We forgot the ketchup,” he [George] said.
“Sorry,” said a small voice within the table, and ketchup appeared.
When Mr. McClean, the psychologist, comes, he also speaks of the nursery as if it is a person:
This room is their mother and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents.
When he and Mr. Hadley switch off the nursery, they "threw the switch that killed the nursery." "Killed" implies that the nursery can die like a human being.
Throughout the story, we see both a soulless piece of technology functioning as a human being and the characters in the story treating it, and thinking about it, as if it were human. Unfortunately, however, the house is only programmed to respond to what the occupants want and to try to deliver that. It is incapable of making moral evaluations about what might be good for the family, especially the children.
Some other lines in Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt" that personify the Happylife Home operating system occur after the psychologist visits the Hadley home and George Hadley decides to turn off the system. Bradbury writes, "The house was full of dead bodies, it seemed. It felt like a mechanical cemetery." In this line, Bradbury compares switching off the system to actually killing sentient beings. The inert Happylife system is not simply a machine at rest; instead, it is dead and buried in a cemetery, as if it were once alive. Peter and Wendy are incredibly distraught after their father has taken away the play object that has become their parents, and Peter begs his parents, "Don't let Father kill everything." Peter's use of the word "kill" also personifies the Happylife system, as it suggests that it was once living and is more real to the children than their actual parents, who have let the system raise and care for their children.
Two different passages that contain personification as it relates to the Happylife Home are the following:
- They walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife Home, ...this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.
- "...the whole damn house dies as of here and now"
In the second example, Peter's father thinks of the house as alive because he says, "...the whole damn house dies as of here and now" as he shuts off various machines throughout the house, as well as the nursery.
This use of personification by Bradbury underscores his theme of the dangers of technology. By becoming too dependent upon machinery and other non-human sources, man risks becoming alienated from others. And, certainly, too much attention to technology mitigates emotional involvement with others.