Ray Bradbury Ray Bradbury Long Fiction Analysis

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Ray Bradbury Long Fiction Analysis

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Paradoxically, Ray Bradbury’s stories look both backward and forward. For him, each story is a way of discovering a self, and the self found in one story is different from the self found in another. Bradbury, like all human beings, is made of time, and human beings, like rivers, flow and change. Adapting the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s famous statement that one cannot step into the same river twice, one could say that no person ever steps twice into the same self. Sometimes Bradbury discovers a self in the past, and sometimes, particularly in his science fiction, he discovers a self in the future. Several critics have pictured him as a frontiersman, ambivalently astride two worlds, who has alternately been attracted to an idealized past, timeless and nostalgic, and to a graphic future, chameleonic and threatening. This creative tension is present both in his own life and in the generation of Americans he likes to depict. It is also intimately connected with the genre—science fiction—with which he became so closely identified.

Bradbury has been called a romantic, and his romanticism often surfaces in the themes he investigates: the conflict between human vitality and spiritless mechanism, between the creative individual and the conforming group, between imagination and reason, between intuition and logic, between the innocence of childhood and the corruptions of adulthood, and between the shadow and the light in every human soul. His stories make clear that, in all these conflicts, human beings, not machines, are at the center of his vision. An ambivalence about technology characterizes his life and work. For example, he never learned to drive, even while spending most of his life in Los Angeles, a city that has made the automobile not only an apparent necessity but also an object of worship. He also refused to use a computer, and he successfully avoided flying in an airplane for the first six decades of his life. Each of these attitudes is rooted in some profoundly emotional experience; for example, he never learned to drive because, as a youth, he witnessed the horrible deaths of five people in an automobile accident. Because of his emphasis on basic human values against an uncritical embracing of technical progress, because of his affirmation of the human spirit against modern materialism, and because of his trust in the basic goodness of small-town life against the debilitating indifference of the cities, several critics have accused him of sentimentality and naïveté. Bradbury has responded by saying that critics write from the head, whereas he writes from the heart.

The poetic style that he developed is admirably suited to the heartfelt themes that he explores in a cornucopia of highly imaginative stories. He cultivated this style through eclectic imitation and dogged determination. As an adolescent, he vowed to write several hundred words every day, for he believed that quantity would eventually lead to quality. Experience and the example of other writers would teach him what to leave out. According to Bradbury, his style was influenced by such writers as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway. On another occasion, however, he stated that his style came as much from silent-film actor Charles Chaplin as from Aldous Huxley, as much from Tom Swift as from George Orwell, as much from cowboy actor Tom Mix as from Bertrand Russell, and as much from Edgar Rice Burroughs as from C. S. Lewis.

Bradbury was also influenced by such poets as Alexander Pope, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Dylan Thomas, and such dramatists as William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. Furthermore, and surprisingly, such painters as El Greco and Tintoretto and such composers as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn showed him how to add color and rhythm to his writing. According to him, all these influences—writers, poets, painters, and musicians—gloried in the joy of creating, and their works overflow with...

(The entire section is 4,981 words.)