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A Sound of Thunder

by Ray Bradbury

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Figurative Language and Literary Devices in "A Sound of Thunder"


In "A Sound of Thunder," Ray Bradbury uses various figurative language and literary devices, such as imagery, similes, and metaphors, to create a vivid and immersive experience. For example, he describes the Tyrannosaurus Rex with intense detail, comparing its movement to a ballet dancer and its roar to thunder, enhancing the sense of danger and wonder in the story.

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What are some metaphors in "A Sound of Thunder"?

The main metaphor in this story is, as the first answer says, thunder.  The metaphor of thunder seems to be used just to describe the sheer physical awesomeness of the dinosaur, but it is much more than that.  The thunder metaphor is also used to show us how any given action can have massive ramifications that are not seen.  Any action, even one so seemingly innocuous as the killing of a butterfly, can “thunder” on and change the world.

Thunder can be thought of as a prominent repercussion of a previous event.  The lightning flashes, but then the thunder comes and demands our attention much more than the lightning does.  If you are turned the wrong way, you don’t see the lightning, but there is no hiding from the sound of the thunder.  The thunder is only a result of the lightning, but in many ways it is more conspicuous than the lightning and has more of an impact on us.

The same is true in the story.  Eckles’ actions do not seem very important at all.  You could easily turn away from them and not notice.  But what comes next—the thunder—cannot be ignored.  Eckles’ action changes the whole of modern society.  A small action has had tremendous repercussions.

Thunder is truly the major metaphor of this story, but it is not just about the way the dinosaur moves. It is also a metaphor for the impacts that  our actions can have on the world. 

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What are some metaphors in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Ray Bradbury's story, "A Sound of Thunder," comes alive with vivid images and creative figurative language that creates an atmosphere of exotic and magnified life. Truly, Bradbury's figurative language immerses the reader into a rather frightening exotic world where the unexpected can easily occur.

The metaphor "sound of thunder" is used to describe the steps of the terrifying and mammoth Tyrannosaurus Rex. As it walks, the earth shakes and rumbles. When Travis, a guide, first sees it, the jungle is filled with sound: "twitterings, rustlings, murmurs, and sighs." And, then there is silence as the small animals sense the approach of a monster. "Silence. A sound of thunder." The steps of the huge dinosaur shake the earth as though thunder were rattling. Further, the sounds of the Tyrannosaurus Rex are described as "lizard thunder" as the dinosaur's great tail swings and lashes sideways. Then, when the T-Rex dies, "[T]hundering, it clutched trees, pulled them with it," and "[T]he thunder faded." This larger-than-anything creature shakes the earth with its mammoth size, creating a metaphoric thundering.

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What are some metaphors in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Throughout “A Sound of Thunder,” Ray Bradbury relies on the juxtaposition of opposites to create an ironic effect. This is especially apparent in the contrast between two elements that serve as primary symbols. One of these is the butterfly, which represents the fragility of existence. In strong opposition are the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the first part of whose name means "thunder lizard," and the sound of thunder referenced in the title. Together, the mighty creature and the related noise stand for tremendous power which, if left uncontrolled, may lead to death.

The butterfly that Eckels unknowingly crushes underfoot symbolizes fragility and vulnerability because the creature is light and frail. Although it initially seems to be the most fragile animal, it is also shown to be powerful because of the effect it has on the future. This paradox has given rise to the phrase “butterfly effect,” used to refer to the unintended consequences of even small actions.

As a symbol of power, the T-Rex is a fearsome beast that is obviously a threat to the human hunters. The thunderous noises it makes are also correlated with the sound of guns—both those that kill it and the one that later kills Eckels. The dinosaur and the gun similarly stand for power, including the ability to cause death.

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What are examples of irony in "A Sound of Thunder"?

The most re-published short story in science fiction history, Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" deals with the idea of time travel and how subtle changes in the past can drastically affect the future. A group of people book a hunting expedition through a travel agency that takes them back in time--to kill a Tyrannosaurus Rex. They are warned to stay on a designated path from which they must not stray; any change made by a visitor from the past may cause untold changes upon their return. (The T-Rex they plan to kill has already been determined to have died, so his death--repeated over and over upon return trips--will cause no changes, the guides assure.)

There are several examples of irony in the story. Perhaps the most obvious is how the simple death of a butterfly millions of years in the past can totally alter the future from which the travellers come. Because of the butterfly's death, a different--and more dangerous--President has been elected; the language has changed; and the town appears different. Also ironic is how the man who accidentally kills the butterfly is punished in a like manner. A final irony is the title, which refers to both the sound of the T-Rex and the gunshot heard in the end.

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What are some metaphors in "A Sound of Thunder"?

The irony in Ray Bradbury’s 1952 short story A Sound of Thunder lies mainly in the story’s ending.  Eckels is a man on a mission: hunt and kill a dinosaur.  Towards this end, he arrives at the corporate headquarters of TIME SAFARI, Inc., which promises clients the opportunity to travel back in time for the purpose of killing a now-extinct animal.  As the name plate at the company’s door announces:




Eckles, however, rapidly presents himself as a potential head-ache for the seemingly put-upon tour guide Travis, whose wariness of yet another expedition into the past is apparent in his demeanor.  His inquisitiveness proves increasingly annoying to those around him, and prompts Travis to set forth the philosophical case against journeys such as this.  Explaining to Eckles and the other clients making the journey through time that any failure to comply with company rules regarding conduct while on the journey could have very serious ramifications for the future, Travis reveals the extent of his concern about client conduct and about the potential implications of a failure:

"We don't want to change the Future. We don't belong here in the Past. The government doesn't like us here. We have to pay big graft to keep our franchise. A Time Machine is finicky business. Not knowing it, we might kill an important animal, a small bird, a roach, a flower even, thus destroying an important link in a growing species." 

Eckels remains confused about this philosophical conundrum, which prompts Travis to launch into a protracted hypothetical scenario about what could go wrong should Eckels or any of the other clients wander from the specially-constructed path.  Upon hearing the approach of the Tyrannosaurus Rex that the hunters have been guaranteed an opportunity to kill, however, Eckels panics and flees, which brings us to the story’s more ironic elements.

In fleeing back to the time machine, it is revealed that Eckels broke the rules and diverged from the specially-constructed path, trampling nature under foot as he ran in terror.  The dead butterfly he has inadvertently but carelessly killed represents precisely the kind of problem to which Travis had referred: The dead butterfly will now never live out its normal life, which can result in a sequence of events at variance with the course of history that would otherwise have evolved and led these men to their encounter at Time Safari, Inc. in the first place.  When the group returns to the present, much has, in fact, changed.  The presidential election that originally ended with the victory of Eckels’ preferred candidate, Keith, has instead resulted with the other candidate’s election, Deutscher, which we have been led to believe will augur ill for society as a whole (In the words of an employee of Time Safari, Inc., “If Deutscher had gotten in, we'd have the worst kind of dictatorship. There's an anti-everything man for you, a militarist, anti-­Christ, anti­ human, anti­intellectual.”)

The first major element of irony, then, involves Eckels’ actions resulting in the exact opposite of what he had wanted, and what had originally occurred.  He has, indeed, altered the course of history through his carelessness, which prompts the story’s final element of irony, Travis’s killing of Eckels with his hunting rifle, the firing of which creates “a sound of thunder”  -- a sound eerily reminiscent of the sound of thunder heard when the Tyrannosaurus Rex emerged from the forest.

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What are some examples of personification in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Personification is the attribution of human characteristics to something that is not human. As we read through Bradbury's short story, we find a great deal of figurative language, and personification is one way that he heightens the tension of the fascinating ability to time travel.

One example appears as Eckels approaches the machine itself:

The Machine slowed; its scream fell to a murmur.

Giving the machine the ability to "scream" and "murmur" makes it seem human and alive. This helps us see this machine as more than a cold, steel contraption which will transport Eckels.

Before he gets into the machine, Eckels asks why he can't deviate from the path. He then becomes aware of the nature around him:

Far birds' cries blew on a wind.

We don't typically think of birds as "crying." They tweet, chirp, and sing. All of these sounds have a positive connotation, but the "cry" of a bird feels much more ominous and reminds us of painful human emotions, which helps to achieve the dark tone of the story.

When Eckels asks about whether it is possible to see the outcome of this hunt by traveling to that point in the past, Travis and Lesperance explain with exasperation that time doesn't allow that sort of paradox:

Time steps aside.

Personifying time this way helps to explain the impossibility of meeting oneself in the past. Time is more powerful than the plans of men.

The T-Rex itself is described with various types of figurative language, and there is some personification woven into that description:

It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker's claws close to its oily reptilian chest.

Giving the T-Rex the human role of a watchmaker is another reminder of the interconnectedness of the past and the future. Humanity depends on the destiny of this one animal, as well as all organisms which have existed in the past. This T-Rex stands watching over time itself, and this event will construct the time that follows. Eckels will learn that even a butterfly stands as a "watchmaker," creating and shaping the time that follows.

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What are some examples of personification in "A Sound of Thunder"?

As is his signature, Bradbury uses the lyrical language of poetry—such as metaphor, images, and personification—in this cautionary tale about the importance of using technology with the greatest of care.

Despite his blunt, hard-nosed persona, Travis is lyrical in his discussion of the dangers of changing the past. As he explains to the safari-goers, the tiniest change in history could cause massive consequences. For example, he envisions a scenario in which Europe stays uncivilized, saying,

Perhaps Europe is forever a dark forest, and only Asia waxes healthy and teeming.

Asia is personified as a person growing full, bright, and healthy, while Europe stagnates.

When Eckles asks if the safari guides who came ahead of them to find a dinosaur that was going to die soon saw the outcome of the safari, Travis says that is not the way time travel works. He personifies time as a thinking, reasoning person, and also as a physical human who can step aside as a person can:

Time doesn’t permit that sort of mess—a man meeting himself. When such occasions threaten, Time steps aside.

The Tyrannosaurus rex is personified in more than one way. At one point, Travis says,

There’s His Royal Majesty now.

Of course, only a human can be a literal king, but Travis is playing on the T. rex as king of the dinosaurs. Further, the dinosaur is personified when its flesh is likened to the chain mail of a human warrior,

sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior.

The personification helps make time travel seem concrete.

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What are some examples of personification in "A Sound of Thunder"?

The first example of personification in Ray Bradbury's 1952 short story "A Sound of Thunder" is used to describe the process of time traveling in the advertisement for the safari: "the old years, the green years, might leap..."as Eckels and his fellow hunters return to the Cretaceous period. Years are inanimate and can only be said to leap in a metaphorical sense.

The time machine the guide and hunters use to return to the habitat of their prey, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, is said to howl, scream, and murmur, all sounds associated with the human voice, as it strains through the reaches of time. 

Finally, when the men reach their destination, the Tyrannosaurus Rex itself is described in decidedly human terms: "It ran with a gliding ballet step," and once it had the men in its grip, "the Monster twitched its jewelers hands" as it "fondled at the men."  Ballet and jewelers are constructs of the human experience, and fondling is the act of caressing, an action not usually associated with the behavior of reptiles but rather ascribed to humanity.

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What are two examples of similes in "A Sound of Thunder"?

A simile is a comparison that uses the words like or as.

Similes are often used in this story by Bradbury, a lyrical writer who infuses a poetic sensibility into his prose. An example is as follows:

There was a sound like a gigantic bonfire burning all of Time, all the years and all the parchment calendars, all the hours piled high and set aflame.

I don't have page numbers (and likely wouldn't have the same edition as you anyway), but the quote above is six paragraphs into the story, near the beginning. As Eckels enters the time travel office, he hears the sound of the time machine. He compares the sound—and the colors he sees—to a bonfire burning up time. It is a powerful simile because we can paint a visual and audio picture in our minds of calendars crackling in the flames. This is a concrete way of referring to going back in time to the dinosaur age, but it is also an ominous, dangerous simile, foreshadowing that what is burnt up can't be recovered.

A second simile is as follows:

He could feel them moving there, beyond the walls, almost, like so many chess pieces blown in a dry wind ....

This quote is near the end of the story, about twelve paragraphs up from the end. It is the last sentence in the long paragraph shortly before Eckels sees the sign with the altered spelling. In this simile, Eckels has an eerie sense of foreboding before he realizes fully that history has changed. He thinks of the people outside of the building as chess pieces, objects moved around by forces larger than themselves.

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What are two examples of similes in "A Sound of Thunder"?

The literary device of metaphor is a direct comparison of two unlike things for effect. Two examples from Ray Bradbury’s story are “a snaking … of wires” and “leg was a piston.” Page numbers will vary by edition.

The first example occurs on the first page of the story. As Eckels enters the office and pays for his safari, he looks at the time-travel apparatus. The tangled group of wires attached to the boxes are compared to snakes.

Eckels glanced across the vast office at a mass and tangle, a snaking and humming of wires and steel boxes, at an aurora that flickered now orange, now silver, now blue.

The second example is found about halfway into the story, in the long paragraph that begins, “It came on great oiled, resilient, striding legs.” The “it” is the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the paragraph is an extended description of the huge dinosaur. Bradbury uses numerous metaphors to describe the massive beast, including several that compare its body parts to the components of a machine.

“Each lower leg was a piston” is a metaphor that compares the creature’s leg to a component of an engine. A piston consists of a tube containing a cylinder that moves up and down against a liquid or gas to create motion.

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What are two examples of similes in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Personification is a literary device in which a nonhuman object is given human characteristics or described as though it were human. This object could be something inanimate, an animal, or even an abstract concept.

There are several examples of personification in "A Sound of Thunder." The Machine is continually personified, first by the fact that the word "machine" is capitalized, like a name, then by descriptions, such as this:

The Machine slowed; its scream fell to a murmur.

Screaming and murmuring are both sounds made by people. The Machine is also described as roaring, howling, and jumping as though it were alive.

The Tyrannosaurus Rex is described in terms that remind the reader of both a person and a god, though these images are juxtaposed with others that emphasize its lack of humanity.

It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker's claws close to its oily reptilian chest.

The incongruous nature of the dinosaur's small claws is emphasized by the comparison with a watchmaker's hands. Travis also calls the Tyrannosaurus Rex "His Royal Majesty" as though he were a human king.

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What are three examples of characterization in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Indirect characterization is the process whereby an author shows us a character's traits through their speech and behavior. Direct characterization occurs when the narrator or another character in the text reveals the traits of a character by stating them. Indirect characterization certainly seems to be the more common of the two in the majority of texts.

One example of indirect characterization occurs when the man behind the desk speaks to Eckels: he describes the dangers of hunting dinosaurs, especially a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and when Eckels accusing the man of trying to scare him, the man says, "Frankly, yes. We don't want anyone going who'll panic at the first shot." He is very realistic and practical, and his behavior toward Eckels indicates this through indirect characterization.

Eckels's behavior reveals him to be someone who is defensive and proud. He requires lengthy explanations for why he is not allowed to step off the path or kill any animal he feels like, as though he does not accept the authority and practices of the professionals. When he is scolded for "aim[ing] his rifle playfully," he "flushed" in embarrassment. Later, he is revealed to be a coward, someone who would not listen to authority and now lacks the courage to go forward with the plan. Ironically, he still suggests that he knows more than his leaders when he says of the T. Rex, "It can't be killed"; he even speaks "quietly, as if there could be no argument. He had weighed the evidence and this was his considered opinion." Eckels's speech and behavior reveal his cowardice and pride.

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What are three examples of characterization in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Characterization is how an author shows what kind of a person a character is. This is most effectively done through showing a character's behavior and recording their dialogue, not simply having a narrator inform us of what they are like.

In "A Sound of Thunder," Bradbury characterizes Eckels by showing how he responds to the man behind the desk selling the safari tickets. When the man says that the T-Rex is the "most incredible monster" ever and that the dinosaurs are "hungry," Eckels grows defensive and reacts with irritation:

Eckels flushed angrily. "Trying to scare me!"

This is a hint that Eckels might be less courageous than he wants to believe.

Travis, the tour guide, is characterized as authoritative and responsible. He shows his authority in his ability to answer all of Eckels's questions completely. He demonstrates that he takes the responsibility of guiding a prehistoric safari seriously when he says to Eckels, who is playing with his gun,

Stop that! . . . Don't even aim for fun, blast you! If your guns should go off—

Bradbury characterizes Eckels as a cautious man who doesn't want to take a genuine risk. When he sees the T-Rex, Eckels says,

Get me out of here . . . It was never like this before. I was always sure I'd come through alive. I had good guides, good safaris, and safety. This time, I figured wrong. I've met my match and admit it. This is too much for me to get hold of.

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What are three examples of characterization in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Authors develop and reveal the qualities, mannerisms, and thoughts of the characters of their literary work through characterization.

There are five ways in which characterization can take place:

  1. through a physical description of the character
  2. through the character's actions
  3. through the character's thoughts, feelings, and speeches
  4. through the comments and reactions of other characters
  5. through direct statements giving the writer's opinion of the character

The first four methods are indirect characterization; they show or dramatize a character. The last is direct characterization; the author makes comments about the character.


Here are 3 examples of characterization:

Way #2. The character's actions:
Eckels nervousness is indicated by his actions:

Eckels swayed on the padded seat, his face pale, his jaw stiff. He felt the trembling in his arms, and he looked down and found his hands tight on the new rifle

Way #3. The character's thoughts, feelings, or speech. 

After the Time Safari Machine returns with the two employees and Eckels, who has stepped off the gravity path, things appear differently to Eckels. He cannot read the sign and when he asks the strange man behind the desk who won the presidential election, he tells Eckels that a different candidate from the one who was President when he departed is in office.

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!”

Way #4. The comments and reactions of other characters:

When Eckels asks why it is so important that he not step off the gravity path, the strong feelings that Travis has about the importance of not doing this are demonstrated in his speech and with his examples:

We don’t want to change the Future. We don’t belong here in the Past.....
A dead mouse here makes an insect imbalance there, a population disproportion later, a bad harvest further on, a depression, mass starvation, and, finally, a change in social temperament in far-flung countries."

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What are some examples of diction in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Well, when we use the word "diction" we actually refer to something as simple as the choice of words that an author used and the kind of effect that those words create. Therefore, if you are after examples of diction you can actually choose any part of the story you want as long as you comment on why the author chose those particular words and what he or she is trying to do to the reader with them.

One of my favourite parts of this story is the description of the T-Rex when he finally appears. Bradbury has carefully chosen his words to present us with a terrifying image of the might and majesty of this animal which so clearly overwhelms Eckels:

It came on great oiled, resilient, striding legs. It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker's claws close to its oily reptilian chest. Each lower leg was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, sunk in thick ropes of muscle, sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior. Each thigh was a ton of meat, ivory, and steel mesh.

This description is of course just the beginning, but note how the word choice deliberately presents the T-Rex as a creature that cannot be killed. Its legs are described as "resilient," showing its determination and strength. It's description as a "great evil god" almost suggests that there is something supernatural about its appearance. The simile comparing the skin to "mail" adds to the impression of impermeability. The sheer weight of the thing and its strength causes us to question the impact that bullets can have.

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What is an example of hyperbole in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Hyperbole, deliberate exaggeration for dramatic effect, is used in interesting ways in Ray Bradbury's “A Sound of Thunder.” It is used several times by characters who are deliberately exaggerating, but it is also used in an apparent fashion by characters who are not exaggerating at all. Let's look at some examples.

When the man behind the desk tells Eckels that the Tyrannosaurus rex is “the most incredible monster in history,” he is using hyperbole. Some people might agree with that, but it is something of an exaggeration because other people may argue that there are other, more incredible monsters. The man behind the desk also uses hyperbole when he talks about Deutscher, the losing candidate in the presidential race. According to the man, Deutscher would have brought “the worst kind of dictatorship” because he is an “anti everything man.” Again, this is hyperbole.

However, sometimes characters seem to be exaggerating but are not. When Travis tells Eckels not to go off the path because any small change in the past could mean a huge change in the future, Eckels doesn't quite understand. He thinks Travis is using hyperbole. He is not. Travis is deadly serious. Eckels discovers this when he does go off the path in his terror and kills a butterfly. When the travelers return to their time, Eckels discovers how serious Travis was, for things are very different in their time. Deutscher is president.

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What figurative language is used in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Figurative language uses figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, and allusions to create a deeper and more vivid impact on a reader. As a science fiction writer, author Ray Bradbury is writing about concepts and events that are far beyond the science and technology of the time. This means that Bradbury has to find a way for readers to connect his great imaginary concepts to their existing base knowledge. Similes are a great tool for this, because they naturally connect one idea to another.

Similes are figures of speech that compare two objects or concepts with each other by using like or as. This construction essentially takes two seemingly dissimilar things and establishes a sense of equivalency. Readers of this story are greeted with a simile very early on in the story when Eckels first enters into the time safari business. He's taking in the entire office space, and he hears something that sounds like "a gigantic bonfire burning all of Time."

Later in the story, Eckels proves that he isn't quite grasping the time repercussions of killing something in the past. It is explained to him that messing with the timeline can create a lot of destruction across all of time. It is "like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity."

Probably my favorite figurative language simile in the story comes when Bradbury has Lesperance explain in incredible brevity how and why time paradoxes are not something to worry about. Usually, science fiction writers that write about time travel really struggle with avoiding time paradoxes for the reader to find error with. Bradbury simply has his story sidestep the entire problem by saying that time does the same thing. It steps aside to not allow paradoxes, and he relates it to airplane turbulence.

"That'd be a paradox," said the latter. "Time doesn't permit that sort of mess­—a man meeting himself. When such occasions threaten, Time steps aside. Like an airplane hitting an air pocket."

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What similes are used in "A Sound of Thunder"?

Similes are comparisons using like or as. I have included many similes from "A Sound of Thunder." You will want to search the text yourself and see what else you can find. Because Bradbury is a lyrical poetical writer who likes to use vivid imagery, he has included a large number of comparisons in this story to help us imagine what it is like to travel back in time to the age of the dinosaurs.

Some of the early similes in the story attempt to capture the wonder and danger of time travel. Bradbury likens the time machine to:

a gigantic bonfire burning all of Time, all the years and all the parchment calendars, all the hours piled high and set aflame ...

He likens visiting years gone by to salamanders leaping out of a fire. In legend, salamanders were impervious to fire. A time machine makes time itself impervious to being burned up. Now you can revisit it:

Out of chars and ashes, out of dust and coals, like golden salamanders, the old years, the green years, might leap

But the smallest misstep can have giant consequences; Bradbury uses the Grand Canyon to try convey the enormity of the tiniest mistake:

Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity.

Once the men are back in time, Bradbury uses similes to describe the dinosaurs:

sounds like flying tents filled the sky, and those were pterodactyls

He uses many similes to convey the enormity and fearsomeness of the T-Rex:

sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior.

a fence of teeth like daggers

Its armored flesh glittered like a thousand green coins.

It is so big it can destroy the men easily. It is able:

to twist them in half, to crush them like berries

When it is killed, Bradbury uses more than one simile to describe the enormity of the dinosaur as he falls and dies:

Like a stone idol, like a mountain avalanche

like standing by a wrecked locomotive

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