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's the tone of "There Will Come Soft Rains"?

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Unless it is qualified in some way, as in someone, perhaps, describing a narrator's tone, tone is generally understood to refer to the author's feelings about the story's subject. This story, to my mind, has a tone of inevitability. There seems to be no irony , no real surprise...

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Unless it is qualified in some way, as in someone, perhaps, describing a narrator's tone, tone is generally understood to refer to the author's feelings about the story's subject. This story, to my mind, has a tone of inevitability. There seems to be no irony, no real surprise that any of the events that take place in the story—or that preceded it—have happened. It seems, in some ways, as though it were bound to. Whatever has been happening in the town near the home has "ruined" it, and now it produces a "radioactive glow" that can be seen from miles away. People have, evidently, become so reliant on technology to perform even the most mundane tasks—like cooking breakfast—that it must have progressed and advanced at a most rapid pace.

When progress occurs so quickly, we often do not have the opportunity to really think through and consider the myriad possibilities or consequences of its centrality in our lives (e.g., think about our current reliance on cell phones—do we know all possible consequences of this reliance? Surely not.). We cannot account for every natural possibility, just as the technologically advanced home can do nothing about an errant tree limb crashing through a window. Bradbury seems to adopt this tone of inevitability in order to convey the idea that nature can always, perhaps even will always, best us, no matter how prepared we think we are.

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The tone of a story is the mood it conveys. This story by Ray Bradbury evokes a mood of sadness and anxiety. We are made anxious because the domestic routines of the house go on with the evident—and at first mysterious—absence of the home's family. We are saddened as we realize that this is because the family has been killed in a nuclear attack.

Bradbury uses imagery—description using the five senses—to convey a tone or mood of anxiety and futility. For example, we are made anxious by the absence of the family in the following images of inedible and wasted eggs and toast:

At eight-thirty the eggs were shrivelled and the toast was like stone. An aluminium wedge scraped them into the sink, where hot water whirled them down a metal throat which digested and flushed them away to the distant sea.

We are later made anxious by the house catching on fire with no human intelligence to intervene:

The house shuddered, oak bone on bone, its bared skeleton cringing from the heat, its wire, its nerves revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins and capillaries quiver in the scalded air. Help, help! Fire! Run, run! Heat snapped mirrors like the first brittle winter ice. And the voices wailed. Fire, fire, run, run, like a tragic nursery rhyme, a dozen voices, high, low, like children dying in a forest, alone, alone.

We are made sad and anxious by such images as the emaciated dog and the imprint of the family on the wall of the house.

All in all, the story is an effective critique of allowing technology to go out of control.

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I think that the tone of this short story shifts during the story.  In the beginning of the story, the tone is one of loneliness.  The house in the story is smart, but Bradbury has given the house an emotional base as well.  The house knows that something is wrong, and it is worried about the absence of the people.  The house feels lonely, and that tone is carried out in how the house keeps asking its questions despite never being answered.  That tone moves from loneliness to fear as the house realizes that it is alone. 

Until this day, how well the house had kept its peace. How carefully it had inquired, "Who goes there? What's the password?" and, getting no answer from lonely foxes and whining cats, it had shut up its windows and drawn shades in an old maidenly preoccupation with self-protection which bordered on a mechanical paranoia.

It quivered at each sound, the house did. If a sparrow brushed a window, the shade snapped up. The bird, startled, flew off! No, not even a bird must touch the house!

Near the end of the story, the tone shifts to a frantic tone.  The house is still afraid, but the fire causes the house to frantically try and preserve itself.  The house throws everything it can think of at the fire.  

The house gave ground as the fire in ten billion angry sparks moved with flaming ease from room to room and then up the stairs. While scurrying water rats squeaked from the walls, pistoled their water, and ran for more. And the wall sprays let down showers of mechanical rain.

The house becomes desperate in its attempts to save itself until the house itself is on its deathbed. The closing paragraph is a melancholic and sorrowful paragraph.  The house fought hard, but in the end it still failed.  I think the tone of the final paragraph shows a tone of futility too.  

Dawn showed faintly in the east. Among the ruins, one wall stood alone. Within the wall, a last voice said, over and over again and again, even as the sun rose to shine upon the heaped rubble and steam:

"Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is…"

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