What is the conflict in Ray Bradbury's short story "The Veldt?"
Conflict can take two basic forms. External conflict is what we see when a character struggles against an outside force, person, or group of people. Internal conflict is a psychological struggle -- a character fighting opposing feelings or forces within him or her.
In this story, Bradbury presents us with both forms of conflict. There are at least two external conflicts at work:
- man versus machine
- parents versus children
There is also an internal conflict: complacency versus recognition of danger. George Hadley, the father, is wrestling with his own doubts. He begins with a complacent view about his lifestyle and family relationships, and is resistant to the idea that his technological devices -- and children -- pose a grave threat. But he becomes increasingly disturbed by the evidence, and finally changes his mind.
Let's consider these conflicts, and how they are supported by the text.
1. Man versus machine
This conflict is evident in the climax: The room is a mechanical device. George Hadley tries to control it, but he fails. In the end, it kills him and Lydia.
But you can find support for this conflict throughout the story. For instance, in the first scene, Lydia voices her fears and concern to George. She feels threatened by the room, and indeed the whole house. George wonders why she doesn't want to enjoy the convenience of having machines take over her chores, and she replies that she feels she's being usurped:
"I feel like I don't belong here. The house is wife and now mother and nursemaid."
The house is more efficient; she can't compete with it.
Later, George becomes convinced. They fantasy was becoming "too real." The room allows his kids to dwell too much "on one pattern." Ominous signs emerge, indicating the threat that the room poses: The fact that George can't turn off the lions; the bloody wallet; the bloody scarf; the screams.
2. Parents versus children
Once again, there is abundant support for this conflict, especially in scenes directly involving the room. The room is a threat, and the children are responsible for the behavior of the room. Throughout the story, the author drops hints that the children's Africa simulation includes attacks on their parents. The parents' possessions (the wallet and scarf) are found in the room with blood on them.
But the conflict is also evident in other parts of the story. For instance, the first time we encounter the children, the boy lies to his parents. "There is no Africa in the nursery." When the parents attempt to prove the opposite, they discover the scene has changed. The children are trying to trick their parents, and George wonders:
"We've given the children everything they wanted. Is this our reward -- secrecy, disobedience?"
Later, when George indicates that he is considering "[shutting] down the house," we see this interchange:
"I don't think you'd better consider it anymore, Father."
"I won't have any threats from my son!"
And when George finally makes his decision, we see Peter wish his father dead:
"Don't let them do it!" wailed Peter at the ceiling, as if he was talking to the house, the nursery. "Don't let Father kill everything." He turned to his father, "Oh, I hate you!....I wish you were dead!"
3. George Hadley's internal conflict: complacency versus recognition of danger
In the first scene, we see how George is intellectually and emotionally invested in his technology. If he feels the occasional qualm, he can rationalize it away:
"And again George Hadley filled with admiration for the mechanical genius who had conceived this room. A miracle of efficiency selling for an absurdly low price. Every home should have one. Oh, occasionally they frightened you with their clinical accuracy, they startled you, gave you a twinge, but most of the time what fun for everyone…"
But when he tries to reassure his wife, it is not without misgivings or doubt. He sees the bolted door "tremble as if something had jumped against it from the other side."
Subsequently, he is bothered by intrusive, disturbed thoughts about threatening imagery in the room, and he is confronted with direct evidence that something is working against him.
- He commands the lions to "go away," but they don't.
- He finds his wallet in the room -- damaged by lion tooth marks, and smeared with blood. Later, he finds a scarf of Lydia's -- also covered in blood.
Such experiences make George doubt the psychological safety of the technology. Maybe the fantasy is becoming "too real." Maybe the room allows his kids to dwell too much "on one pattern." He asks McClean if the lions could "become real." Could there be "a flaw in the machinery, a tampering or something?"
After his conversation with McClean, George finally seems to resolve his inner conflict. He announces that the "whole damn house dies as of here and now."
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In Ray Bradbury's short story "The Veldt," the conflict that comes immediately to mind is that between the husband and wife, George and Lydia. George is thrilled by the programmed landscape (and all that comes with it) that is recreated in the children's nursery.
The lions were coming. And again George Hadley was filled with respect for the brilliant mind that had come up with the idea for this room...Every home should have one. Oh, occasionally they frightened you with their realism, they made you jump, gave you a scare. But most of the time they were fun for everyone.
While George is delighted with the scariness of the room's theme, Lydia is not at all enthusiastic. She asks George to visit the room for she feels something about it has changed and she is fearful.
“They’ve just been eating,” said Lydia. “I don’t know what.”
“Some animal.” George Hadley put his hand above his eyes to block off the burning light and looked carefully. “A zebra or a baby giraffe, maybe.”
“Are you sure?” His wife sounded strangely nervous.
“No, it’s a little late to be sure,” he said, with a laugh. “Nothing over there I can see but cleaned bone, and the vultures dropping for what’s left.”
“Did you hear that scream?” she asked.
Several things are evident not only in Lydia's instinctive fear, but also in George's casual response to the scene before them. Lydia is not certain that the lions have killed an animal. Nervously, she asks George to confirm that there is nothing to worry about.
The innate conflict is obvious when comparing Lydia's concerns to George's response. Judging what is left of the lions' prey, he laughs when he notes that the corpse is too far gone to determine what it was in life.
Ironically, while George admires the realism of the program that has created the veldt for his children, he seems unconcerned that that very realism might create a danger for his family or himself.
The close call George and Lydia experience with the lions provides Lydia's character the opportunity to express the author's concerns in this cautionary tale:
“I’m afraid.” She came to [George] and put her body against him and cried as he held her. “Did you see? Did you feel? It’s too real.”
It appears that Lydia feels that what should simply be a form of entertainment for their children has become an unnatural (and threatening) generator of their daily experiences. Overall, the computerized house has robbed them all of the need to face the challenges of daily living. Bradbury may well be using Lydia's response to point out that failure to interact with the world at large is not only dangerous, but also socially disruptive.
From a sociological standpoint, another conflict is that which exists between man and machine. The house does everything for them so that they no longer have to do anything for themselves. This has created social dysfunction in that the parents have lost the satisfication of daily accomplishment; they have also become distanced from their children. This especially troubles Lydia.
“But I thought that’s why we bought this house, so we wouldn’t have to do anything?”
“That’s just it. I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is wife and mother now, and nurse for the children. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a bath and clean the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic body wash can? I cannot. And it isn’t just me. It’s you. You’ve been awfully nervous lately.”
Lydia's sentiments echo her worry about losing touch with the very things that have given her life direction and purpose.
Other conflicts exist in that the children prefer the world generated by the veldt program. They have disassociated themselves from a normal home environment, from their parents and from the real world. Their lack of coping skills is evident in the tantrum Peter had once before when separated from the veldt. It would also appear that very little is expected of them.
Bradbury's futuristic story provides a warning that is especially relevant today. Failing to note conflicts technology creates in our families and our world could be disastrous.
Do we stand to lose our direction and purpose if we depend too much on machines to define our reality? If we do so, how much do we lose of our relationships with others—and the essence of who we are—in the process?
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In "The Veldt," the conflict is between the parents (George and Lydia) and their children (Wendy and Peter). George and Lydia had come to rely on the nursery as a kind of babysitter for so long that it had become like a parent to them. This is a commentary on the role technology plays in family life and relationships (particularly with parents who use television to pacify and entertain their children). Since the children have become so spoiled, they will stop at nothing to sustain this lifestyle. Thus, the children take the ultimate revenge on their parents for trying to take the nursery, and on an extra-textual level this is revenge for being bad parents.
There is also a conflict between man and machine. George supposes that the room is so lifelike and the technology is so advanced that it may be possible that the lions could become real. This is a common scenario in futuristic science fiction stories where robots or some form of technology becomes the master over humans. In this story, it is children and technology that signify the end for George and Lydia. Technology made by humans and the children "made" by George and Lydia combine to eliminate their creators.
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