What is the purpose of Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"?

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A theme throughout Bradbury's work is the need to for humans to be in control of the powerful technology we have developed or might develop in the future. We should handle it with care and not think it exists for us to indulge in frivolous pastimes. "A Sound of Thunder" illustrates the pitfalls of using technology for our own pleasure.

In this story, a wealthy man named Eckels pays a large sum of money to travel back in time to the age of the dinosaurs. His goal is to go on a safari to hunt a T. Rex. When he arrives in the past, he is carefully warned never to stray from a specially constructed path. Any interference with the past could change history forever.

Eckels, however, panics when he sees the T. Rex. He leaves the path, smashing a butterfly. When he and his party return to the present, they realize everything has changed for the worse and a dangerous potential dictator has been elected president of the United States—all because Eckels killed a butterfly. It was foolish, Bradbury implies, and a sign of hubris or pride to use a powerful technology to indulge people's whims. We need, Bradbury strongly suggests, to treat technology with more care and respect.

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The author’s purpose is to remind people that small actions have large consequences.

The author’s purpose is the reason for writing a story.  Usually we first determine if an author intends to inform, persuade or entertain.   The short story “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury is a cautionary tale.   It is entertaining, because most science fiction is.  But its primary purpose is to get us to think.

Since people cannot really travel through time, we cannot say that Bradbury is cautioning us with interfering with the past.  Through the message of the “butterfly effect,” Bradbury lets us know that apparently small actions can have huge consequences.

Eckels felt himself fall into a chair. He fumbled crazily at the thick slime on his boots. He held up a clod of dirt, trembling, "No, it can't be. Not a little thing like that. No!"

Bradbury wants us to consider:  If stepping on a butterfly in the past can cause the entire future to be altered, what other small actions might we make that have unintended, large effects?

 

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