What is the theme of the story "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“A Sound of Thunder” is a science fiction story about a man named Eckels who hires a time travel company to take him on a hunting expedition in the age of the dinosaurs.  The theme is that little things can make a big difference.

This story reminds us of an idea called the “Butterfly Effect.”  The Butterfly Effect states that a very small event can have large unintended consequences.  In the story, Ecklels is warned never to step off the path, because they can only hunt animals that are already about to be killed if nature runs its course.

It floats six inches above the earth. Doesn't touch so much as one grass blade, flower, or tree. It's an antigravity metal. Its purpose is to keep you from touching this world of the past in any way.

This little bit of foreshadowing, the insistence that he stay on the path, is directly related to the theme.  When you step off the path, something happens that you do not intend.  You can affect the entire course of the future, just by stepping on a butterfly.

"Not a little thing like that! Not a butterfly!" cried Eckels.

By stepping on the butterfly, Eckels altered the path of history such that the spelling on the sign was changed and a new man was elected president.

We probably won’t go time traveling in our lifetime, but this is still a relevant theme.  Sometimes a little thing can make a big difference.  One small choice, although it may seem minor, can affect not only the course of your future but others as well.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of the story could be summed up as "do sweat the small stuff." Details matter. More importantly, we need to get beyond ourselves and our own pride and realize that the whole world is linked together in delicate and intricate ways. Even our smallest actions can have big consequences, so we shouldn't be reckless.

In this story, Eckels indulges himself with a very expensive trip back in time to the dinosaur age. Despite severe warnings to be extremely careful and to stay on a strictly prescribed path, he steps off in fear and confusion and kills a butterfly. He has realized too late that they shouldn't be there, stating

 "We were fools to come. This is impossible."

When he returns to the present, he realizes that his one mistake in killing the butterfly has had huge repercussions: history has been changed, and a Hitler-like dictator has been elected president.

The most important theme in the story, one that can get lost under our fascination with time travel and the dinosaurs, is that our human pride can lead to our undoing. The same pride or ego—a form of recklessness—that leads humans to think they can safely control time travel can lead us to make reckless decisions with devastating consequences. We do need to live carefully, to sweat the small stuff, to think before we act.