Ray Bradbury Bradbury, Ray (Vol. 53) - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Ray Bradbury 1920-2012

(Also wrote under the pseudonyms of Douglas Spaulding and Leonard Spaulding) American short story writer, novelist, scriptwriter, poet, playwright, essayist, and author of children's books.

See also Ray Bradbury Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 10, 15, 53.

Regarded as an important figure in the development of science fiction, Bradbury is noted as one of the first authors to employ a cerebral, elevated writing style—rather than the more common sensational style—in works dealing with science fiction concepts. Often described as economical yet poetic, Bradbury's fiction conveys a vivid sense of place in which everyday events are transformed into unusual, sometimes sinister situations. In a career that has spanned more than fifty years, Bradbury has written fantasies, crime and mystery stories, supernatural tales, and mainstream literature, as well as science fiction. In all of his work, Bradbury emphasizes basic human values and cautions against unthinking acceptance of technological progress. It has been noted, however, that Bradbury, perceives life, even at its most mundane, with a childlike wonder and awe that charges his work with a fervent affirmation of humanity.

Biographical Information

Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, a small town that frequently emerges as the setting in his stories. In the mid-1930s, Bradbury's family moved to southern California, where he graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1938. Determined to become a writer, he created his own science fiction magazine called Futuria Fantasia, although he produced only four volumes. Bradbury worked as a newsboy in Los Angeles from 1940 to 1943 to support his writing. His first published story, “Pendulum” (with Henry Hasse), surfaced in Super Science Stories in 1941. Shortly thereafter, his macabre tales regularly appeared in such pulp magazines as Black Mask Amazing Stories, and Weird Tales. Weird Tales served to showcase the works of such fantasy writers as H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and August Derleth. Derleth, who founded Arkham House, a publishing house specializing in fantasy literature, accepted one of Bradbury's stories for Who Knocks?, an anthology published by his firm. Derleth subsequently suggested that Bradbury compile a volume of his stories; the resulting book, Dark Carnival (1947), collects Bradbury's early fantasy tales. Due to the success of this first collection, his stories were soon published in such mainstream periodicals as Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New Yorker; in these publications, his work reached a wider audience. A prolific author, Bradbury has published numerous short story collections, earning a reputation as an authority of fantasy literature in the process.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Although he has produced volumes of work in many genres, Bradbury is essentially a short fiction writer. Sometimes his works cross literary forms. For example, the novels The Martian Chronicles (1950), Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and Dandelion Wine (1957) are frequently treated by critics as short story collections, in which chapters are connected by a simple framing device. The stories in The Martian Chronicles, for example, are linked by the theme of human settlement on Mars. Another significant collection of short stories, The Illustrated Man (1951), also uses a framing device, basing the stories on the tattoos of the title character. Bradbury's earlier stories—particularly those collected in Dark Carnival, The Martian Chronicles, and The October Country (1955)—have been compared to those of Edgar Allan Poe because of their grotesque and sometimes horrific story lines. “Skeleton,” for example, is about a man who grows so repulsed by his own skeleton that he has it removed, consequently becoming “a human jellyfish.” “The Third Expedition” (first published in 1948 as “Mars Is Heaven” in Planet Stories and later collected in The Martian Chronicles) is about Americans who travel to Mars where they are reunited with their deceased relatives, who, in actuality, are hostile beings whose human faces melt away in the night as they murder the Americans in their sleep. The futuristic and sometimes morbid themes of Bradbury's early collections rarely surface in his more recent works. Driving Blind (1997), for example, only contains four traditional science fiction stories. The majority, though bizarre, are more nostalgic, optimistic, and romantic. Most of Bradbury's fiction is issue-oriented as he frequently addresses such thematic concerns as racism, censorship, religion, and technology, often infusing the text with authorial commentary.

Critical Reception

While Bradbury's popularity is acknowledged even by his detractors, many critics find the reasons for his success difficult to pinpoint. Some critics were aggravated that Bradbury's futuristic stories, which are often labeled as science fiction, often reflect poor scientific knowledge and, at times, an aversion toward technology. Other commentators defended Bradbury's perspective, asserting that he was more interested in the consequences of technology on human beings than the technology itself. Some of his detractors have pointed to inconsistencies within Bradbury's text. More forgiving reviewers have excused any oddities in Bradbury's short stories as imaginative and inventive. Yet by far the greatest complaint of Bradbury is that his fiction is overly sentimental and didactic. Despite this charge, most critics have expressed appreciation for Bradbury's poetic prose that underscores basic human values and questions the wisdom of purely technological progress.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Dark Carnival 1947

*The Martian Chronicles 1950

The Illustrated Man 1951

*Fahrenheit 451 1953

The Golden Apples of the Sun 1953

The October Country 1955

*Dandelion Wine 1957

A Medicine for Melancholy 1959

The Meadow 1960

The Ghoul Keepers 1962

R is for Rocket 1962

The Small Assassin 1962

The Machineries of Joy 1964

The Autumn People 1965

The Vintage Bradbury 1965

S is for Space 1966

Tomorrow Midnight 1966

Twice Twenty-Two 1966

Bloch and Bradbury: Ten Masterpieces of Science Fiction [with Robert Bloch] 1969

I Sing the Body Electric! 1969

Whispers from Beyond [with Bloch] 1972

Selected Stories 1975

The Best of Bradbury 1976

Long after Midnight 1976

To Sing Strange Songs 1979

The Ghosts of Forever (story, essay, and poetry) 1980

The Stories of Ray Bradbury 1980

Dinosaur Tales...

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John B. Rosenman (essay date 1978)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Rosenman, John B. “The Heaven and Hell Archetype in Faulkner's ‘That Evening Sun’ and Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.South Atlantic Bulletin 43, no. 2 (1978): 12-16.

[In the following essay, Rosenman finds parallels between Faulkner's story “That Evening Sun” and Bradbury's novella That Dandelion Wine, particularly the emphasis of heaven and hell in their work.]

Faulkner's “That Evening Sun” (1931) and Bradbury's Dandelion Wine (1957) share an archetypal pattern that Maud Bodkin described in 1934. In her pioneer study, Archetypal Patterns in Poetry, Psychological Studies of Imagination, she refers to a “pattern” of the “Heaven and Hell Archetype” in which Satan struggles “upwards from his tremendous cavern below the realm of Chaos, to waylay the flower-like Eve in her walled Paradise and make her an inmate of his Hell, even as Pluto rose from beneath the earth to carry off Proserpine from her flowery meadow.”1 As we shall see, both writers emphasize a hell (for Faulkner it is a “ditch,” for Bradbury, a “ravine”) that is inhabited by a devil figure who threatens a queenlike Eve in the warm security of her home. Considered collectively, these mythic and other correspondences between the two works reveal much about how literary minds, apparently working independently, can reshape archetypal materials in similar ways.

As symbolic hells, Faulkner's “ditch,” which appears also in The Sound and the Fury, and Bradbury's “ravine” are dramatized as dark and (especially in Bradbury) as mysterious and malignantly alive. Both exert a primal, terrifying force and exude an ominous menace that pervades the works with an air of expectancy and suspense. In “That Evening Sun,” the ditch is a racial boundary that divides Jefferson's white and black worlds. The white Compson children are not allowed to enter it without an adult. In Dandelion Wine, the ravine divides Green Town into “halves” and separates civilization from an encroaching wilderness. Suffused with “a danger that was old a billion years ago,” the ravine gnaws and gradually erodes the town, stalking it like some primeval jungle monster that slowly swallows it alive.2 Understandably, the Spaulding children are not permitted to enter it at night.

When it comes to the women, such resemblances between the two works seem to stop. Lavinia Nebbs, the “prettiest maiden lady in town” (p. 165), does resemble “the flower-like Eve” spoken of by Bodkin, but the Negro laundress and prostitute Nancy in “That Evening Sun” is neither a maiden nor beautiful. However, in “That Evening Sun,” we have an Eve or queen whom Nancy creates as a symbol of herself. Trying to keep the Compson children with her in her warm cabin so that her husband won't enter and kill her, Nancy, who had earlier crossed the ditch to get to her house, tells them a story about a queen who has “to cross the ditch” where a “bad man” is “hiding,” in order “to get into her house quick and bar the door.”3

Lavinia Nebbs must do exactly the same thing. Descending into the ravine at night, she must cross through it to the safety of her home on the other side, where she can “bar” her door. Like Nancy's cabin, which is brightly lit by a lamp and has a fire in the hearth, her home is a place of refuge. To her, it is “the really good warm place, the only place to be” (p. 176). During her passage she is terrified that the Lonely One will seize her and strangle her as he has done to other young women.

Nancy, in comparison, is tormented both by the Compson children, whom she calls “little devils” for “chunking” rocks at her house (p. 290), and by her husband Jesus. Jesus is as Satanic a figure as the Lonely One. According to Nancy, he had told her she had “done woke up the devil in him” (p. 295). Nancy's sin is that she has become pregnant through her prostitution, apparently by some white man. Possibly the man responsible is the deacon of the Baptist church named Stovall who had earlier abused her.

Significantly, the name Jesus has more than one ironic meaning.4 Because Jesus is a black man in a white society that often fears and hates blacks, and because he has threatened Nancy, his name suggests the Anti-christ. Also, it hints at Nancy's loss of Jesus both as a husband and as a savior, and at a symbolic loss of Heaven as well. Again, it implies that despite her trials, she still possesses a simple religious faith the white aristocrats lack. Unlike Mr. Compson who scornfully says “Ah, damnation” to the notion that Jesus is hiding nearby, and who states, “There's not a soul in sight” in the ditch (pp. 307–308), Nancy believes or “feels” Jesus is there and is, as far as she is concerned, omnipotent. Her conviction that Jesus' coming is imminent and that she is “hellborn” and “going back where I come from” (p. 298), seems to be justified not only because it is compelling but by two other considerations. One is the “sign” which Nancy says Jesus has left her of his intentions....

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Noël M. Valis (essay date 1979)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Valis, Noë M. “The Martian Chronicles and Jorge Luis Borges.” Extrapolation 20, no. 1 (spring 1979): 50-9.

[In the following essay, Valis discusses Jorge Luis Borges's 1955 prologue to the Argentinean translation of The Martian Chronicles and its insights into Bradbury's work.]

It may, at first glance, seem somewhat incongruous to juxtapose Ray Bradbury's immensely popular Martian Chronicles (1950), with the presumably more arcane and erudite Argentinian master of the intellectual puzzle, Jorge Luis Borges. What, after all, do Ray Bradbury and Jorge Luis Borges have in common? One could, of course, remark in very general terms that...

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Gary K. Wolfe (essay date 1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Wolfe, Gary K. “The Frontier Myth in Ray Bradbury.” In Ray Bradbury, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, pp. 33-54. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1980.

[In the following essay, Wolfe links “the traditional frontier orientation of much of American literature” and Bradbury's science fiction tales.]

In an interview in 1961 Ray Bradbury described an unwritten story of his which was to be cast in the form of an American Indian legend. An old Indian tells of a trip he made years earlier to visit tribes in the East. During this trip a strange event occurs: “One night there was a smell on the wind, there was a sound coming from a...

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Edward J. Gallagher (essay date 1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Gallagher, Edward J. “The Thematic Structure of ‘The Martian Chronicle.’” In Ray Bradbury, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, pp. 55-82. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1980.

[In the following essay, Gallagher underscores the structural and thematic unity of the stories in The Martian Chronicles.]

The Martian Chronicles (1950) is one of those acknowledged science fiction masterpieces which has never received detailed scholarly study as a whole. Its overall theme is well known. Clifton Fadiman says that Bradbury is telling us we are gripped by a technology-mania, that “the place for space travel is in a book, that human...

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Steven Dimeo (essay date 1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Dimeo, Steven. “Man and Apollo: Religion in Bradbury's Science Fiction.”1 In Ray Bradbury, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, pp. 156-64. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1980.

[In the following essay, Dimeo maintains that religious concerns play a significant role in Bradbury's short fiction.]

Although religious thinking in the space age has been largely dominated by Nietzschean apostasy, science fiction itself seems to be giving more and more attention to man's relationship with the divine.2 Religious themes have long been treated in the genre, but the first to give it serious—even literary—consideration...

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George R. Guffey (essay date 1982)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Guffey, George R. “The Unconscious, Fantasy, and Science Fiction: Transformations in Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and Lem's Solaris.” In Bridges to Fantasy, edited by George E. Slusser, Eric S. Rabkin, and Robert Scholes, pp. 142-59. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982.

[In the following essay, Guffey asserts that the similarities between Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and Stanislaw Lem's Solaris are “largely the result of the strong influence of the unconscious of each writer during the creative process.”]

[A writer] floats on the heavenly lake; he steeps himself in the nether spring....

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Gary K. Wolfe (essay date 1983)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Wolfe, Gary K. “The Remaking of Zero: Beginning at the End.” In The End of the World, edited by Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander, pp. 1-19. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.

[In the following essay, Wolfe surveys the major characteristics of Bradbury's post-holocaust science fiction.]

In Ray Bradbury's 1950 short story “The Highway,” a poor Mexican farmer who has lived for years beside a highway from the United States, enjoying such odd fruits of this link to technology as sandals made from tire rubber and a bowl made from a hubcap, is startled one day by the sudden appearance of cars speeding northward in...

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Ray Bradbury (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Bradbury, Ray. “Memories Shape the Voice.” In The Voice of the Narrator in Children's Literature: Insights from Writers and Critics, edited by Charlotte F. Otten and Gary D. Schmidt, pp. 132-38. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.

[In the following essay, Bradbury discusses the role of memory in his work.]

When I began to write Dandelion Wine (1975), first I rummaged through my mind for words that could describe my personal nightmares, fears of night, and time from my childhood. Then I took a long look at the green apple trees and the old house I was born in, and the house next door where my grandparents lived, and all the lawns of the summers I grew up...

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Peter Stockwell (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Stockwell, Peter. “Language, Knowledge, and the Stylistics of Science Fiction.” In Subjectivity and Literature from the Romantics to the Present Day, edited by Philip Shaw and Peter Stockwell, pp. 101-12. London: Pinter Publishers, 1991.

[In the following essay, Stockwell provides a stylistic analysis of “The Night,” focusing on Bradbury's utilization of language and the story's place within the conventions of science fiction.]

This [essay] will be concerned with language in relation to the genre of Science Fiction (SF), and will deal with the practice of stylistics and the reading of texts. In the spirit of SF itself, the discussion will draw on work...

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Jonathan Eller (essay date 1993-95)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Eller, Jonathan. “The Body Eclectic: Sources of Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles.University of Mississippi Studies in English 11-12 (1993-95): 376-410.

[In the following essay, Eller traces the creation of Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, particularly the influenceson the book.]

There is an intriguing five-year gap between the time that Ray Bradbury first envisioned a book about people on Mars, and the time that he rediscovered that intent and produced his remarkable first novel, The Martian Chronicles. Bradbury's new introduction to the Fortieth Anniversary Edition recalls the crucial moment of rediscovery, a New York luncheon in...

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Kevin Hoskinson (essay date 1995)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Hoskinson, Kevin. “The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury's Cold War Novels.” Extrapolation 36, no. 4 (winter 1995): 345-59.

[In the following essay, Hoskinson investigates the link between The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, contending that “though the two fictions are usually read as separate entities, if read as complementary works, they provide a more comprehensive view of a larger whole.”]

In a discussion about the thematic content of The Martian Chronicles with interviewer David Mogen in 1980, Ray Bradbury stated, “The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 come from the...

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James E. Person, Jr. (essay date 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Person, James E., Jr. “‘That Always Autumn Town’: Winesburg, Ohio and the Fiction of Ray Bradbury.” The Winesburg Eagle XXII, no. 2 (summer 1997): 1-4.

[In the following essay, Person evaluates the thematic and stylistic influence of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio on Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.]

The river, great symbol of life, is also the great symbol of death, for it is the symbol of samsara, of time … Rivers are irreversible. Clocks are reversible. “You can't go home again” does not mean that you can't turn the clock back (because you can) but that you can't turn the river back. This is true not only...

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Publishers Weekly (review date 22 September 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Driving Blind, by Ray Bradbury. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 39 (22 September 1997): 72.

[The following review provides a positive appraisal of Driving Blind.]

The 21 stories in Bradbury's new anthology [Driving Blind] are full of sweetness and humanity. Despite bizarre actions and abstract twists, all are grounded in the everyday. Here are sketches, vignettes, strange tales, colorful anecdotes, little tragedies, hilarious lies and metaphysics too. Here are a spinster's ancient love letters and the man who wrote them, wholesome small-town folk and conniving sharpsters, a moribund circus camel, a homicidal garbage disposal and a dead man...

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Publishers Weekly (review date 11 March 2002)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of One more for the road, by Ray Bradbury. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 10 (11 March 2002): 51.

[The following review offers a favorable assessment of the collection One More for the Road.]

“You do not build a Time Machine unless you know where you are going.… But I built my Time Machine, all unknowingly, with no destination in mind,” explains a bemused time traveler in Bradbury's latest collection [One More for the Road: A New Story Collection]. Bradbury, who has taken readers on so many marvelous trips, has a similar approach to navigation. In this new volume of stories (17 of the 24 have never been published before), he maintains...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Eller, Jon R. “The Stories of Ray Bradbury: An Annotated Finding List (1938-1991).” Bulletin of Bibliography 49, no. 1 (March 1992): 27-51.

Primary bibliography and title index.


Weist, Jerry. Bradbury: An Illustrated Life: A Journey to Far Metaphor. New York: Morrow, c.2002, 208 p.

Full-length biography of Bradbury.


Bloom, Harold, ed. Ray Bradbury. Philadelphia : Chelsea House Publishers, 2001, 159 p.

Full-length critical overview of Bradbury's career that contains bibliographic...

(The entire section is 437 words.)