A Sound of Thunder

by Ray Bradbury

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

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The story "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury conveys many important themes, but the two most significant are related. One theme is that everything depends on everything else for its existence, and a second is that human life is intimately connected to what happens in nature. An alteration to one tiny life millions of years ago can and does change the course of human events millions of years in the future.

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The two most significant and related themes of the story "A Sound of Thunder," are that the existence of everything is connected to the existence of everything else and that human life cannot be isolated from what happens in nature.

While in the past, Time Safari client Eckels panics at the sight of the Tyrannosaurus Rex he has paid to kill, and he steps off the path and onto a butterfly. When the men return to the present after having killed the great dinosaur, they see that the spelling of the Time Safari business sign is completely strange and different, and the man at the desk is "not quite the same man" he was before they left. Eckels drops into a chair and, in examining his boots, realizes that he has stepped on a butterfly.

It fell to the floor, an exquisite thing, a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominoes and then big dominoes and then gigantic dominoes, all down the years across Time.

Somehow, Eckels stepping on that butterfly changed the course of evolution and natural development and even the fates of human beings living millions of years later. In fact, human relations and lives are so intimately connected to the natural world, even to the long-past world of the dinosaurs, that the death of one insect millions of years ago has changed the outcome of the recent presidential election. Eckels thinks, "Killing one butterfly couldn't be that important! Could it?" The answer, of course, is that it could be and it is that important.

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One of the main themes of the story is the dangers of exploiting nature. By making regular hunting expeditions to prehistoric times, Time Safari Inc demonstrate just such an exploitative attitude. They see nature as nothing more than an object that exists for man's personal use. The idea of nature as being intrinsically special, as having a life of its own, simply doesn't occur to them. All the company cares about is making a quick buck.

And how does Time Safari Inc exploit nature? Through developments in technology. Bradbury may not be a Luddite—someone with a knee-jerk fear or distrust of new technology—but here, as elsewhere in his works, he's alive to the dangers of how it can so often be used or, rather, abused.

On paper, the ability to travel through time sounds amazing. Most of us at some point have probably imagined what it would be like to go back in time to places we've only ever read about in history books. But if such technology ever were to become available, then, as the story makes clear, it would be put to less savory ends—used as a means of exploiting the environment and messing around with history, with potentially serious and damaging consequences.

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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.

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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.

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What is the main conflict in Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"?

One could argue that the primary conflict in Ray Bradbury's celebrated short story "A Sound of Thunder" is a Man vs. Nature conflict. In a typical Man vs. Nature conflict, characters struggle against forces of nature, which are hostile and pose significant threats or obstacles in the story. In regards to Bradbury's short story, advanced technology gives humans the ability to time travel. Man possesses a great opportunity, which comes with much responsibility. Time Safari, Inc. capitalizes on its advanced technology by selling expeditions into the past, where citizens have the thrilling opportunity to hunt dinosaurs. Despite taking several notable precautions, time travel is extremely risky and the consequences attached to traveling into the past are enormous.
The conflict between Man vs. Nature arises from mankind's hubris, as humans threaten to alter the course of history each time they interact with the natural environment of the past. By accidentally altering the past, the characters in the story set off a major chain reaction which dramatically transforms the future. This phenomenon is known as the "chaos theory" or "butterfly effect." Unfortunately, Eckels accidentally runs off the path and steps on a prehistoric butterfly. His actions change the course of human history, and the United States is transformed into a dystopia ruled by the ruthless dictator named Deutscher. Overall, Bradbury explores a nuanced conflict concerning humans and the natural environment throughout "A Sound of Thunder." Although humans possess extraordinary technology, their impressive technological advances are at odds with nature and threaten to disturb the balance of the universe. Nature is portrayed as extremely sensitive and poses a significant threat to humans utilizing technology to manipulate time.
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What is the main conflict in Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"?

Ray Bradbury's story “A Sound of Thunder” features two men whose attitudes and actions show how human beings enter into conflict against themselves. The characters of Eckles and Travis have distinctive features, but they have numerous negative traits in common: because they are arrogant and self-centered, they refuse to acknowledge the possible repercussions of their actions. Both men demonstrate their inability to control themselves, although on different scales, and their failures result in devastating consequences that extend far beyond the personal level to affect humans and other species on a global scale.

Travis as a representative of the Time Safari company feels justified in interfering in the past, even though they profess not to be doing so. The supposed precautions they take are merely a different kind of interference that paves the way for errors by the clients they cater to, who cannot be guaranteed to follow their warnings.

Travis pushes all the blame onto Eckels for any potential misstep he might make, ignoring the fact that his company has created the scenario for such an error to occur. Eckels is equally responsible, however, given his attitude of entitlement and superiority based on his wealth. Both men show how individual humans can place their own priorities above their concern for others.

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What is the main conflict in Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"?

The main conflict in Ray Bradbury's 1952 short story, "A Sound of Thunder," is man vs.nature. Eckels lets his fear of the beast he is hunting overtake him, and in so doing, makes careless mistakes. These mistakes have monumental consequences for the whole of human history. 

The story takes place in the future and centers on a man named Eckels who hunts big game. He has conquered all the big game in his environment and is drawn to a company called Time Safari, Inc., which specializes in time travel hunting. He pays a large sum of money to hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex during the Cretaceous period. 

Travis, his safari guide, has carefully explained the importance of not disturbing anything in the past. The company takes many precautions to ensure that what they do in the past doesn't alter the future. 

Before they take clients on a safari, a guide goes back in time to scout out an animal that was going to die of some natural cause. They calibrate the hunting expedition to within minutes of when the natural death would have occurred so they do not interrupt the natural sequence of events. Travis warns:

"The stomp of your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our earth and destinies down through Time, to their very foundations." 

Eckels, having a hard time believing the impact of such small actions, asks further questions, to which Travis replies: 

"Crushing certain plants could add up infinitessimally. A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion."

When it comes time to shoot the Tyrannosaurus Rex, Eckels is petrified with fear. Travis becomes impatient with him and tells him to return to the time machine. On his way back, Eckels accidentally steps off the anti-gravity metal path that has been built by the company to ensure that not even a blade of grass is harmed during the expeditions. Travis sends Eckels back to the carcass to remove the bullets, which must not be left in the past. He feels that this will teach Eckels a lesson about signing up for hunts he's not capable of completing. On the way back, Eckels tramples a butterfly. 

Upon his return to 2065, he notices the company sign has changed. The lettering is different. He begins to fear that Travis' warnings have been correct. 

"Eckels felt himself fall into the 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!' Embedded in the mud, glistening green and gold and black, was a butterfly, very beautiful, and very dead." 

Horrified, Eckels asked the man at the front desk who won the presidential election. Instead of answering President Keith, as he had when Eckels went on the safari, he answers Deutscher, his opponent with dictatorial beliefs. Eckels realizes that when he left the path, he altered the course of human history in exponential ways. 

Though there is a minor conflict of man vs. man with Eckels and Travis, the main conflict is man vs. nature. Eckels alters the course of history by damaging an insect, a butterfly. This disruption to the ecosystem sets in motion a chain reaction that alters everything in the known world in a negative way. 

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What is the meaning of the title "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury?

The title is a phrase taken from the narrative of Bradbury's short story; it is used twice. The first time it is a description of the footsteps of the Tyrannosaurus Rex that Eckels has contracted to shoot, and the second time it is a description of the sound of a deadly blast from a rifle. Thus, it has two meanings.

  • First Meaning

After the Time machine takes Eckels back a million years, he finds himself in a jungle which is full of various sounds, such as "twitterings, rustlings, murmurs, and sighs"; however, as the great dinosaur approaches, all the creature that live in this jungle stop what they are doing. 

Silence. A sound of thunder. Out of the mist, one hundred yards away, came Tyrannosaurus Rex. "It," whispered Eckels. "It......  

As the monstrous creature marches through the jungle, the activities of all the other occupants are arrested in trepidation. The giant has the jungle to itself while it walks with such weight and strength that it makes sounds as powerful as the reverberations of thunder.
It is this terrifying sound which causes Eckels to recoil in fear.

"It can't be killed," Eckels pronounced this verdict quietly, as if there could be no argument.

When Eckels sees this prehistoric giant, he is so intimidated by its power that he feels that the rifle he holds is like a mere cap gun. He tells his guides, "We were fools to come. This is impossible." These remarks infuriate his guides, who have to shoot the giant reptile themselves. They order the frightened Eckels back into the Time Machine and tell him to walk quietly and carefully. 

  • Second Meaning

Earth-shaking changes occur as a result of Eckels' trip because he has stepped off the gravity path which prevents anyone from making any changes to the environment into which they time travel. Unfortunately, Eckels has stepped upon a butterfly, killing it.

When Eckels and the others return to the present time and the office of Time Safari, Inc., there is a different person behind the desk, words on the sign are indecipherable, and there is a chemical taint to the air. Eckel senses other changes, as well. So, fearfully, he examines the bottom of his shoe:

Embedded in the mud, glistening green and gold and black, was a butterfly, very beautiful and very dead.

Eckels falls to his knees. Trembling, he asks if there is not some way that the butterfly can be brought back to life, and reverse things to the way they were before he left on the adventure. "Can't we start over?" he asks in desperation. Frozen in fear, Eckels waits.

....He heard Travis [one of the guides] breathe loud in the room; he heard Travis shift his rifle, click the safety catch, and raise the weapon. There was a sound of thunder.

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

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

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

The theme of Bradbury's short story is related to how everything in has a purpose and there is a causal connection for all of the events that subsume us.  There are things interlinked to a degree that we cannot see, so to disrupt one element could be catastrophic.  The idea that the time travellers seek to go back in time for sport or recreation (to kill the T. Rex) indicates this. It is another example of how modern tragedy is caused by the appropriation of the world in accordance to one's own subjectivity.  Eckels' fear that causes him to veer off the path might be one of but several moments of damage that the hunters caused to the time/ space continuum.  The resulting transport back to the future and the eventual victory of the Fascist candidate only proves that there are events in a sequence whose method we might not be able to envision.   I sense that this particular story is a good way for Science Fiction writers to present a position that critiques modernism and the supposed "growth" and "evolution" of society.  The theme can be applied to not only those who wish to appropriate the world in accordance to their own subjectivity, but really anyone who is so blinded by their own sense of accomplishment and individual superiority that they cannot see that they, too, are part of a chain of events and time that should not be broken.

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

A Sound of Thunder is a time travel story that conveys a theme of the importance of all events and actions.  The story focuses on a single event that occurs on the time travel safari that is run by the Time Safari Company and how a small mishap, the killing of a butterfly, changed the course of evolution.

Bradbury points out in this story how the careless behavior of one of the travellers causes a shift in the course of evolution. The story also focuses on a the fact that the group who takes the time traveling trips is a group of rich businessmen and Bradbury is saying that the fact that this type of company exists, and that people have nothing else to do with their money, is vulgar and obscene.

Bradbury, like other Science Fiction writers, such as H.G. Wells, writes about the fear of technology going too far.  In this story, I think Bradbury is commenting on how technology has been misused.  The technology that has allowed these time travelers to take a trip with Time Safari is clearly an expression of materialism and over consumption on the highest level.

For their personal pleasure, these people, rich people who have nothing else to do, alter the course of human evolution and nearly destroy human existence.

Therefore, the theme that Bradbury is trying to convey has to do with the Butterfly Effect and Chaos theory, which states that a small difference can have an enormous impact on future events.

"The butterfly effect is a theorem of chaos theory that small variations in the initial conditions of a dynamical system can produce large variations in the results. A Sound of Thunder. In that story, a time traveller accidentally steps on a butterfly in the distant past, causing broad changes in the present."

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

The major theme to this story, in my opinion, is the idea that everything that happens on Earth has an effect on our history.  You might have heard this referred to as the "butterfly effect" -- the idea that a small change can lead to a large impact.

In this story, Eckels goes back millions of years in time.  While there, he kills one measly little butterfly.  Because of this action on his part, the history of the United States is changed in the present day.

This shows us the theme -- small changes can have huge impacts and nothing that happens (no matter how small it seems) is truly unimportant.

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What is Ray Bradbury's agenda with "A Sound of Thunder"?

One primary element which comes out of Bradbury's short story is the idea that there are implications to all of individual actions.  By merely falling off of the path, the story reveals drastic consequences, unforeseen by something so minute.  In a time period where the Cold War and preoccupation with control, action, and domination, Bradbury's story helps to reveal how there is little, if any, learning curve when human action is combined with severely potent weapons of destruction.  Bradbury seeks to bring forth the idea that individuals cannot see past their own decisions and action, and thus freedom has to be exercised in a prudent and cautious manner.

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What is Ray Bradbury's agenda with "A Sound of Thunder"?

I believe that what Bradbury is trying to do with this short story is to tell us how easily things in our lives can change and how easily things could have been different.

In this story, he imagines a scenario where one person, millions of years ago, steps on some grass.  Somehow, that single action ends up causing a major change in the history of the United States.  It ends up causing a different history, one in which the US seems much more like an authoritarian state.

So I think he is trying to warn us about how fragile our reality is and how easily our own way of life could be destroyed.

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In Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, what is the meaning of "A Sound of Thunder?"

A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury takes Eckles 60 million years in the past to the time of the dinosaurs for the purposes of hunting and killing a Tyrannosaurus Rex . Eckles is warned of the dangers and the fact that guides and hunters have died in their pursuits but he is still certain that he wants to go. He knows that the safari company has gone to great lengths to ensure that the eco-system is not altered, even wearing oxygen masks to ensure that no bacteria enters the pre-historic atmosphere, because "destroying an important link in a growing species" could change the future. 

Eckles panics at the sight of the T-Rex and strays off the designated path, stepping into some mud. At this stage, however, he is blissfully unaware that, not only his choices, but his subsequent actions, will have had life-changing effects on life as he knows it when he returns to the present day- the year 2055. He believes that offering to pay the safari company should be sufficient. Even when Eckles, on the way "back" to the present day, notices the dead butterfly, he still refuses to believe that it could have any real effect.  

The story reminds readers how a self-absorbed attitude and lack of respect can have disastrous results. Thinking that money is a solution to all problems is also a very modern problem. The changes to prehistoric times and the ecological effects on the future describe the well-documented "Butterfly Effect," which results from seemingly small and insignificant changes, often unnoticed initially but which can cause dramatic variations in other naturally-occurring events. This phenomenon stems from Chaos Theory and the unpredictable progression of a hurricane.   

The link with the title and its appropriateness is revealed because thunder can be understood in terms of what it represents. Thunder warns us that bad weather conditions exist and are possibly approaching. Sometimes the bad weather moves away and other times it gets ever closer until it reaches our location. The thunder is not the problem, but the weather it brings with it, is. So too in A Sound of Thunder. The potential for disaster was there but was not imminent. Only Eckles' selfish actions set the changes in motion.  

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