"A Sound of Thunder" Themes

The main themes in "A Sound of Thunder" are the dangers of technology, the preservation of nature, and the nature of time.

  • The dangers of technology: The events of the story suggest that it's impossible for humans to fully negate the risks associated with new technologies.
  • The preservation of nature: The butterfly's death and the drastic consequences that follow illustrate the importance of respecting the natural balance of the world.
  • The nature of time: By highlighting the similarities between contemporary America and the futuristic America of the time travelers, Bradbury underscores the connection between the past and the present.

Themes

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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1002

The Dangers of Technology

Bradbury’s short story takes place in an unnamed location in America some time beyond the year 2055. In this futuristic world, advancements in technology now enable humans to travel back in time, but when a technology-assisted expedition back to a prehistoric time goes wrong, the consequences are dire. Unfolding through the perspective of the time travelers who observe the changed world to which they return, this short story functions as a warning, cautioning readers to be wary of technology that enables them to do too much.

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In Bradbury’s story, when man-made technological advancements—like the Time Machine and the Path—tamper with natural order, the outcomes are disastrous. Upon the time travelers’ return, they discover that society has been irreparably changed as a result of their actions: language, and perhaps even literacy itself, has been compromised, and Americans are no longer governed by a democracy. Though the leaders of Time Safari, Inc., have taken steps to protect the natural world from their new technologies, their efforts have backfired, suggesting that our ability to control the dangers of new technologies is inherently limited.

The Path, which uses anti-gravity metal to float above the ground, appears to be a reasonable technological innovation, designed to negate the risk of leaving a mark on the past. It provides the hunters with a way to walk through the prehistoric jungle while minimizing their effect on their surroundings. The technology of the Path, however, works only when the people using it respect its role and intentions, and ultimately, the Path gives Travis and Lesperance a false sense of confidence in Eckels. They believe that he is capable of staying on the Path simply because they instructed him to do so, and they seem unconcerned by the fact that the technology of the Path depends on the perfect compliance of imperfect humans. As Eckels vividly illustrates through his blunder, even the most advanced technology can be abused and misused by humans.

The Preservation of Nature

Bradbury employs a reverential tone in the language he uses to describe the prehistoric jungle, presenting nature itself as a power that deserves the respect of humans, and as the Tyrannosaurus Rex emerges from the jungle, Bradbury’s vivid imagery conveys the beauty, strength, and fearsome presence of this now-extinct predator.

Against the backdrop of pristine and reverential nature imagery, the human characters in the story perform terrible deeds. Travis cautions Eckels to follow the rules of the Time Safari in order to protect the natural processes at work. Travis and Lesperance may initially appear to be stewards of nature, given their careful approach to time travel and their apparent awareness of the risks involved in traveling back to prehistoric times. In reality, however, the leaders of the safari contribute directly to a corrupt system that puts nature at risk by facilitating the trips in the first place. Their emphasis on following the rules stems not from some altruistic motive, but from their desire for their employer, Time Safari, Inc., to be allowed to continue to...

(The entire section contains 1002 words.)

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