The themes that dominate Bradbury’s later work—the uneasy alliance between man and machine, the destructive tendency of technology—are absent in these early stories, but many of the stylistic elements of his mature fiction can be found here in embryonic form. The October Country exhibits his intensely poetic style and his aptness with imaginative metaphor.
Also present in this collection are Bradbury’s often-used themes related to small-town life and the need for simplicity. The stories in this collection share a sense of place, regardless of their disparate settings. Whether in a wheat farm, as in “The Scythe”; a city, as in “The Crowd”; or even a foreign village, as in “The Next in Line,” each setting is both isolated and claustrophobic, like a midwestern town encircled by vast open land, cut off from the rest of the world. This, Bradbury says in his preface, is the October Country, “where it is always turning late in the year. The country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay.”
Bradbury’s idea that modern life has grown too complicated is nowhere clearer than in “The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone,” in which a writer feels a wonderful sense of freedom when forced to abandon his literary career for a simpler life. The problems of Bradbury’s protagonists seem rooted in complicated living: automobiles that crash or cannot be relied upon, a view of the human body that is overly clinical, or hucksters waiting for a trusting soul upon whom to prey.
In their obsessions, Bradbury’s characters do not misperceive reality; they perceive it differently. They focus too intently on a single detail of experience, such as the skeletons concealed within in their bodies or the crowds that invariably gather at automobile accidents. They allow past trauma to skew their frame of reference, like the mother who barely survives giving birth and suspects her baby of murderous intent, or the abandoned woman who joins her love by drowning. They are trapped in their perceptions through no fault of their own, like the boy raised indoors in “Jack in the Box” and the farmer compelled to kill in “The Scythe.” Ultimately, Bradbury’s reality contorts to fit his characters’ twisted perceptions, and his readers are thus swept into his October Country.