Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ray Bradbury once said that he had not so much thought his way through life as he had done things and discovered what those things meant and who he was after the doing. This metamorphosis of experience under the aegis of memory also characterizes many of his stories, which are often transmogrifications of his personal experiences. He therefore used his stories as ways of hiding and finding himself, a self whose constant changes interested, amused, and sometimes frightened him. He believed that human beings are composed of time, and in many of his science-fiction stories, a frequent theme is the dialectic between the past and the future. For example, in several of his Martian stories, the invaders of the Red Planet have to come to terms with their transformation into Martians, since survival in an alien world necessitates the invader’s union with the invaded. Aggression and submission might represent the initial dialectic, but survival or death becomes the most determinative.

Even in stories where Bradbury’s characters and settings seem ordinary, this theme of metamorphosis is nevertheless present, because these stories often show ordinary people being transformed by extraordinary, sometimes bizarre situations. Sometimes Bradbury’s purpose is to point out the enlightening power of the abnormal; sometimes he wants to reveal the limitations of the everyday and ordinary. His best works are often wrenching indictments of the dangers of unrestrained scientific and technical progress, though his work also encourages the hope that humanity will deal creatively with the new worlds it seems driven to make. His characters are changed by their experiences, particularly when they encounter great evil beneath the surface of seemingly normal life, but in other stories Bradbury gives the reader a window through which to see the positive meaning of life (these stories, usually sentimental, are life-affirming, permitting readers to believe that human dreams can be fulfilled). By helping readers to imagine the unimaginable, he helps them to think about the unthinkable. He speaks of his tales as “idea fiction,” and he prefers to call himself a magical realist. He casts magic spells through his poetic words and highly imaginative visions, and because of this aura of enchantment, some critics have seen his chief subject as childhood or the child hidden in the adult unconscious.

A danger exists, however, in treating Bradbury as a writer of fantasy suitable only for adolescents. This may be true for some of his works, but many of his stories exhibit emotional depths and logical complexities that call for a sophisticated dialectic between the adult and his buried childhood. The difference between fantasy and reality is not strongly developed in the child, whose experience of the world is minimal. Bradbury often plays with this tension between fantasy and reality in dealing with his principal themes—the power of the past, the freedom of the present, and the temptations and traps of the future. In the world of Bradbury’s stories, fantasy becomes essential for a person existing in an increasingly technological era or with experiences that, like an iceberg, are nine-tenths buried below the surface. In these cases, the abilities to fantasize various alternatives or futures, and to choose the best among them, become necessary for survival.

Because of Bradbury’s woefully inadequate knowledge of science and the lack of verisimilitude in the technological gadgetry of his science-fiction stories, many aficionados of the genre do not consider him a genuine science-fiction writer. He agrees. His science-fiction settings are backgrounds for characters with social, religious, and moral dilemmas. Like fellow science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov, Bradbury believes that science fiction’s value lies in helping human beings to visualize and solve future problems before they actually occur, but unlike Asimov, he has a deep suspicion of the machine and a...

(The entire section is 4,458 words.)