What is the plot of "There Will Come Soft Rains"?
Here is an outline of the plot of "There Will Come Soft Rains" according to Freytag's design:
- Exposition - This is the beginning of the story in which the setting is created and the characters and situation are presented.
The story opens with an automated alarm clock ringing and announcing the time, with the suggestion that perhaps no one will--"as if it were afraid that nobody would."
- Rising Action - A series of incidents that are related build to a point of highest interest: the conflict
The automated house is abuzz with activity as cleaning mice appear and announcements for the day are made. But, it is an empty house to whom the voice speaks, for no doors are heard slamming and "At eight-thirty the eggs were shriveled and the toast was like stone." The garage door swings open twice and finally closes. Evidently, the occupants of the house are missing. The family dog whines to be let in; however, he is covered with mud and seems injured. The cleaning mice rush to clean up after him, and all the dirt and dust is placed in an incinerator which sits "like an evil Baal," the ancient god of the Old Testament. This allusion to Baal also makes reference to John Milton's Paradise Lost as well as the dog's death.Clearly, these actions foreshadow destruction.
- Climax - This is the turning point which leads to a change in the action, for better or for worse.
After the dog's death, the sun comes out, revealing that all the other houses have been destroyed, and it is the sole home left standing. Against one wall of the house, there are silhouettes of four people and a ball all made in "one titanic instant." There has been a nuclear explosion, which has destroyed nearly everything.
- Falling Action - The electronic house continues its routine. A card table is set up and supper is made and the dishes cleared and washed as a voice reads Sara Teasdale's "There Will Come Soft Rains"; this poem tells of a gentle rain that falls and sings amid a war that does not concern Nature, even if all the people die.
- Denouement - This is the resolution of the conflict and the end of the story.
In the house, a bottle falls over as a wind comes up suddenly. The house catches on fire and the cleaning mice are unable to stop the blaze, but a "gentle sprinkler rain falls, unconcerned about the war. The voices in the home are arrested, but Nature does not seem to care as it will yet continue. Man and his technology have destroyed themselves.
This is a very curious story to study, as it is one of the few stories I am aware of without any characters whatsoever, which is part of its point. Bradbury was writing at a time when fear of nuclear holocaust was intense, and thus in this story he posits a future where society and technology has become so advanced that humans, the creators of this technology, not only have houses that are robotic and do everything for them, but also have created weaponry that is so sophisticated it can destroy all of humanity. The story begins as one of these robotic houses begins its everyday routine, with breakfast being made and robotic mice cleaning the building. It is only when a limb falls into the house that a fire starts which cannot be put out. The reader realises the only reference to humans are in the description of the outside 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 up 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.
Clearly this setting is one where all humans have been destroyed. The title refers to a poem that is read by a robotic voice that talks of how one day nature will survive humans and carry on living without even acknowledging the absence of humans. It is clear that this point has come now, as nature carries on regardless with live and humans are now extinct.