"There Will Come Soft Rains" is an unusual story in that it contains no human characters. However, because of its anthropomorphic characteristics—its ability to act on its own—the house itself is a character. It continues to function even after the world around it has been destroyed. Although not specifically stated in the story, it is implied that all human life on earth has been obliterated. All that remain are shadowy silhouettes of figures burned into the side of the house by the blast of the bomb.
The house is computerized and has been programmed to proceed with its routine without the intervention of a human being. The computer wakes the house's inhabitants up from their sleep, it cooks the family's meals, cleans the house, and even sets up the card table for the regular bridge game. The house is efficient, dependable, and well-programmed. This is ironic, though, because without the people there, all these functions serve no purpose. The meals go uneaten, there is no one to play the card game, and no one listens when the computer reads the poem from which the story takes it name, "There Will Come Soft Rains," by Sara Teasdale. Thus, the house is dutiful but also rigid and unchanging.
The house is also characterized by the "cleaning mice," who are somewhat annoyed by the mess made by the dog. This animal arrives at the house sick with radiation poisoning and tracks mud into the house. The agony of the dying dog is not acknowledged by the cleaning mice; they express only annoyance when forced to clean up its mess. This is also ironic because it demonstrates the inability of the house to sympathize and its sense of exasperation, normally human emotions.
When the wind blows a tree branch through a kitchen window and knocks over a bottle of cleaning fluid, the house also imitates human behavior by attempting to save itself from the fire. Bradbury makes the house seem like it is experiencing the human instinct for self-preservation. This is another instance of irony, since this "instinct" fails to preserve the house's "life," and exposes its "human' ' behavior as an imitation only. Thus, ultimately the house represents the inability of technology to replace humans, and the inferiority of technology when confronted by nature.
Themes and Characters
Bradbury's tale, devoid of human characters and concerned with failed technology, presents several themes that explore the dark side of the symbiotic relationships between people and their inventions. Although the tragedy in this story has already taken place by the time the story opens, it is actually the conflict between human beings and the machines they create that is at the heart of this story. In Bradbury's view, people put too much faith in the machines they invent. People have the power to create devices that can destroy them, but they have not enacted any measures to prevent this from happening. Bradbury believes that technology is a very wondrous—yet also very dangerous—thing. He illustrates technology's marvels: a house that can clean itself and take care of its inhabitants. On the other hand, technology has also transformed the house's family into nothing but carbon shadows. By writing a story with no human interaction, Bradbury demonstrates the sterility of a world without people. The computerized house has no feelings—it cannot love, and it cannot hate—it can only be programmed. Likewise, the nuclear force that killed the family had no inherent emotions; it simply did what it was created to do. In this world of "morally neutral" technology, Bradbury proposes that humankind is destroyed by its own hubris, or self-confidence. Once a machine's creator is dispensed with, like the house's family, the machine is empty and meaningless.
Despite the horror inflicted by science upon the Earth in "There Will Come Soft Rains," nature is shown to be the more powerful force. Humans have created a bomb that destroys them all and a house that is incapable of being destroyed by the bomb. But fire,...
(The entire section is 1,364 words.)