illustration of a nature scene with a bird in the grass next to a puddle that shows a translucent reflection of a human

There Will Come Soft Rains

by Ray Bradbury

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There Will Come Soft Rains Analysis

  • There Will Come Soft Rains” was first published in 1950, seventy-six years before the events of the story take place. At that time, 2026 seemed like a distant reality, and smart houses were just a dream—but today, the automated systems of the story’s smart house are hardly futuristic. Bradbury’s message about the power of technology remains as relevant as ever.
  • There are no human characters in “There Will Come Soft Rains.” The protagonist, the house, features a kind of artificial intelligence that automates its systems but doesn’t register the fact that the house’s former residents were killed in the explosion.

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Analysis

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“There Will Come Soft Rains” lacks any living human character and as a result the house becomes the main avenue of storytelling. Bradbury establishes an eerie, mechanical tone that reflects the mechanization of the house. This tone is reinforced by the use of the voice-clock, which periodically announces the time of day. Even the death of the deceased family’s dog is situated chronologically in between time stamps. What is in fact a tragic death by radiation poisoning and starvation becomes “debris” that is cleaned up between two o’clock and two thirty-five. Bradbury’s use of such a detached, factual tone emphasizes the tragedy of the humanity that has been lost: there is no one left to mourn.

The personification of the house further reflects inhumanity of the machinery. It moves mechanically, coldly, with no real emotion, even though it attempts to convey this through sing-songy clock reminders. When the voice reads out the Sarah Teasdale poem for which the story is named, the juxtaposition is off-putting. Here is a poem about nature’s longevity and indifference to human action read by a robotic voice in the wall. This seems to be a fitting and unsettling combination that ties Bradbury’s narrative together.

Ray Bradbury is well known for his science fiction works, specifically those that emphasize the relationship between humans, nature, and technology. This background certainly aligns with “There Will Come Soft Rains.” Bradbury was also known for social commentary, which is particularly fitting given the Cold War context of this story’s publication. The fears of nuclear war, as well as the apprehensions around rapidly expanding technology, would have been immediately recognizable for audiences in the 1950s. “There Will Come Soft Rains” depicts a technological fixture—the house—that withstands a nuclear blast, even though its occupants did not. Bradbury illustrates a world where technology has gone too far, so far as to outlast humanity. There is an underlying dread that such rapid technological advancement will be the end of humanity.

The role of nature is especially important throughout the story. Nature is what prevails in this post-blast world. Similarly, nature is what eventually leads to the downfall of the house. References to animal and plant life are abundant in the story. The robot mice act as cleaners, scurrying around just as their flesh and blood counterparts would. The house shutters itself when a bird lands on the windowsill, perceiving it as a threat. The nursery walls come alive with images and sounds of the natural world. When the house catches on fire, the “jungle” of the nursery burns. The digital animals scurry and meet the same fate as the rest of the mechanical voices in the walls. Although the house attempts to replicate the doings of nature, it fails to live up to the longstanding power of nature. Though the house could withstand the nuclear blast, it fails to match the impact of nature. It has been trying to replicate the natural world but has only created technological versions of it. Thus, it is symbolic that this seemingly indestructible home is felled by something as natural as a fire caused by a strong wind.

The story’s namesake, “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sara Teasdale, draws on the ideas of nature and destruction. The poem, which describes the way nature will return to equilibrium even after war and human destruction, provides a parallel to what goes on in the story. After the nuclear fallout, major destruction occurred. Yet it is nature that prevails against the mechanics of the house. It is suggested that even after humans are gone—whether from nuclear blasts, disease, or warfare—nature will carry on, unbothered. When spring arrives, it “[w]ould scarcely know that we were gone.” This is an ominous conversation to have with Teasdale’s poem, which details the peace that comes after war. Bradbury’s choice to name the story after the poem—and thus to directly cite it—invites a discussion about the relationship between humanity and its surroundings. Bradbury seems to be suggesting that humanity is relatively insignificant in the face of nature’s immensity.

Style and Technique

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At the heart of the story’s irony is a poem by Sara Teasdale that the mechanical house chooses to read when the former lady of the house, Mrs. McClellan, is no longer there to express a preference. The title of the story comes from the first line of the poem: “There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground.” Teasdale goes on to create a poetic world in which swallows, robins, and frogs continue their singing, oblivious to humankind and its wars:

And not one will know of the war, not oneWill care at last when it is done.Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,If mankind perished utterly;And Spring herself, when she woke at dawnWould scarcely know that we were gone.

The irony exists in the way in which Bradbury’s fictional world in “There Will Come Soft Rains” parallels the imaginative world of Teasdale’s poem. By placing this poem in the middle of the story, just before the house starts to die, Bradbury draws attention to the role that nature plays in its death, but also to nature’s lack of concern for humanity. There is also the additional irony that this poem about nature’s lack of concern for human life is picked at random by a house designed to operate at the beck and call of people who are no longer even there. The house, with its mechanical voices, carries on, unconcerned, just as do the birds and frogs of the poem, with their natural voices.

The personification of the house throughout the story serves to make even more obvious, by contrast, the absence of human life. The house is full of voices, but not one of them belongs to a living human being. When danger arises, the voices scream and wail as if the machines behind them were capable of feeling fear. The house fights valiantly to save itself, and the fight becomes a battle as between two human entities. The fire lies in beds, feeds on paintings, stands in windows, feels the clothes in the closets. The fire is clever. It sends flames, as with conscious intent, to destroy the attic brain that controls the water pumps. The house’s defeat is described in anatomical terms: “The house shuddered, oak bone on bone, its bared skeleton cringing from the heat, its wire, its nerves revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins and capillaries quiver in the scalded air.” Its collapse becomes a burial: “The crash. The attic smashing into kitchen and parlor. The parlor into cellar, cellar into sub-cellar. Deep freeze, armchair, film tapes, circuits, beds, and all like skeletons thrown in a cluttered mound deep under.”

Humans, in their attempt to be godlike, have succeeded in creating a dwelling that practically takes on a life of its own. In the absence of its human creators, however, the religion for which the house itself serves as an altar is reduced to an empty ritual. The ritual continues for a time, but the “gods” that it is designed to serve have gone away. All that remains is nature, which scarcely knows that they are gone.

Historical Context

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Aftermath of World War II
Bradbury wrote "There Will Come Soft Rains" in the early 1950s. The memory of World War II was fresh in peoples' minds, particularly the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August, 1945, which brought the war to an end. Though the Allies had won, an increasing tension arose between the United States and the U.S.S.R., and soon a nuclear buildup known as the Cold War began. President Dwight Eisenhower, a war hero, warned of the rising military-industrial complex it took to support the Cold War. In the United States' quest to eradicate communism from the globe, beginning with the Soviet Union, a disproportionate part of the country's resources and economic power needed to be focused on the weapons stockpile. The focus on preparedness for war, critics said, would result in governmental neglect of other important issues, like education, welfare, and economic growth. Nevertheless, few citizens were concerned about these issues as the 1950s dawned; jobs were plentiful and people were now able to afford goods that had been cost-prohibitive before the war, such as automobiles and televisions. But the threat of nuclear war filtered into everyday life. People built bomb shelters in their basements, and children participated in bomb drills at school in which they learned to protect themselves from a nuclear blast by crawling under their desks and placing their hands on their heads.

Anticommunist Fervor
This fear of communism raged out of control during the 1950s, and it was represented most graphically by the Senate Committee on Unamerican Activities, which was organized and spearheaded by Senator Joseph McCarthy. This committee investigated and persecuted many prominent Americans who were suspected of believing in communism. This paranoia, followed by a fanatical attempt to flush out democracy's traitors and eradicate them, became known as McCarthyism. Many waters and artists were taken to court, accused of being communists, and were "blacklisted,'' meaning they were not able to gain work. Thus, many lives and careers were ruined.

When not focused on the "red menace" of communism, the country turned its attention toward the future. Spawned by the pre-war interest in futurism and modernism as displayed by corporate America at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City, people's imaginations were sparked by the thought of transcontinental highways, labor-saving devices like washing machines and robots, and the possibility of space travel. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed to make space travel a reality. But the U.S.S.R. beat the Americans into space with the launching of Sputnik in 1956, further promoting anti-Soviet feeling in the United States. Government leaders sought to intensify the race by stating that they intended to land a man on the moon before the century was over. The nation's interest in science fiction movies and comic books reflected this fascination with the future.

Setting

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The setting of "There Will Come Soft Rains" is very precisely stated in the opening of the story. It is the morning of August 4, 2026, and the locale is Allendale, California. Depicting the aftermath of a devastating nuclear war, the entire story takes place over the course one day in a single family home, deserted and ash-covered but still technologically intact.

Literary Style

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Irony
Bradbury uses irony to great effect in the story. Irony in this case means presenting an outcome of a situation that is the opposite of what one would expect. Thus, it is ironic that the same technology which created a house that can cook and clean is also the technology which destroyed all the people on the planet. Furthermore, it is ironic that such a sophisticated example of technology, the computerized house, can be destroyed by nature, represented by the tree limb which crashes through the window and starts the fire.

Another irony involves the symbolism of the poem that the computer reads to the empty house. ''There Will Come Soft Rains," by Sara Teasdale, was written as a critical response to World War I. After all the wars are over, she says, the earth will continue despite all human efforts to prevent it. Though Teasdale could not have envisioned the devastation of nuclear war, her poem is still relevant. Even a world which has been poisoned for thousands of years with radiation and can support no human life will continue to exist. That the house reads this apocalyptic vision that has already come to pass is the irony of the situation. Humans have been able to foresee their annihilation, and now nothing but their prophecies of it remain. The inherent contradiction that forms the irony of the story can also be said to be paradox. A paradox is a situation which seems to contradict itself. Thus, technology that was designed to protect people— i.e. nuclear weapons—has actually killed them.

Simile
Bradbury uses similes, comparisons of unlike situations or things, to enhance the imagery of his prose. For instance, he states that the "nerves" of the house were ''revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins and capillaries quiver in the scalded air." Thus, by giving the house nerves, he compares it to a living organism, one that is badly damaged. Besides creating a vivid image, this simile also relates the idea that the house can feel. The ability to feel is a human characteristic. Ascribing human characteristics to inanimate objects is a literary device known as anthropomorphism. By describing the house in human terms, the author hopes the reader will identify with it, and thus feel empathy for the idea that it is the last working object on earth. It has lost its purpose—to serve others— because the others are no longer there. Though the house is an object with no emotions, the reader who identifies with it may feel loneliness and be able to imagine the pain of having one's skin torn off. In this way, Bradbury is able to evoke emotion in the reader, the mark of a successful narrative. In another simile, the fire "[feeds] upon Picassos and Matisses in the upper halls, like delicacies." The simile of priceless paintings being compared to food serves to anthropomorphize the fire. By eating the paintings, the fire is given a human characteristic. In a story with no human characters, the devices of similes and anthropomorphism give the reader something with which to identify.

Themes and Meanings

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By 1950, Bradbury was well aware of the looming threat of nuclear holocaust and of the irony that the technology that could be used to make life more comfortable for humanity could also be misused to bring about humankind’s ultimate destruction. In creating the house that is the focal point of the story, human beings have made their scientific knowledge work for them to render daily life orderly and carefree. Before the nuclear explosion, the inhabitants of the house clearly lived a pampered existence, and it was the house itself, humankind’s creation, that pampered them and that indeed even did much of their thinking for them. The house cooked, cleaned, and protected itself without the expending of any human energy. Martinis and sandwiches appeared readymade for the bridge party, and the cards were even mechanically dealt. The children were entertained with fantasy worlds on film projected on the walls of the nursery, and their parents with poetry read at their request by a voice box. The house also reminded the owners to pay their bills, to acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries, and to take along galoshes and umbrellas. Ironically, once the house made possible by humankind’s technological advances started to function, it no longer needed humankind. So smoothly did the house run itself that it might have lived on much longer had not nature interfered.

In Bradbury’s prophetic look at the future of modern society, human beings by the year 2026 have advanced to the point where they can control their material realm, but they cannot control their own destructive tendencies. The implication is that the nuclear blast is the result of an act of aggression against the West Coast of the United States. Whether war or nuclear accident is responsible for the devastation, however, human beings’ power to use science for their own benefit is juxtaposed to their powerlessness to control their scientific developments in their more destructive forms.

The end of the story also illustrates humankind’s powerlessness in the face of natural forces. The manner in which the house dies emphasizes the ability of nature to endure in spite of human beings’ ultimately fatal attempts to control their environment. The wind blowing down a tree branch starts the series of events that end in the total destruction of the house. Dawn breaks in the east as the destruction is complete. The natural cycle goes on regardless of whether there is a single human being left alive to witness it. A human’s puny recorded voice calls forth that a new day has begun, but the sun rises to shine only on a heap of rubble.

Social Sensitivity

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Bradbury wrote "There Will Come Soft Rains" in the early 1950s. The memory of World War II was fresh in people's minds, particularly the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August, 1945, which brought the war to an end. Though the Allies had won, an increasing tension arose between the United States and the Soviet Union, and soon a nuclear buildup known as the Cold War began. President Dwight Eisenhower, a war hero, warned of the rising military-industrial complex it took to support the Cold War. In the United States' quest to eradicate communism from the globe, beginning with the Soviet Union, a disproportionate part of the country's resources and economic power would need to be focused on the weapons stockpile. The focus on preparedness for war, critics said, would result in governmental neglect of other important issues, like education, welfare, and economic growth. Nevertheless, few citizens were concerned about these issues as the 1950s dawned; jobs were plentiful and people were now able to afford goods that had been cost-prohibitive before the war, including automobiles and televisions. However, the threat of nuclear war filtered into everyday life. People built bomb shelters in their basements, and children participated in bomb drills at school in which they learned to protect themselves from a nuclear blast by crawling under their desks and placing their hands on their heads.

This fear of communism raged out of control during the 1950s, and it was represented most graphically by the Senate Committee on Un-American Activities, which was organized and spearheaded by Senator Joseph McCarthy. This committee investigated and persecuted many prominent Americans who were suspected of participating in communist activities. This paranoia, followed by a fanatical attempt to flush out the "traitors" and eradicate them, became known as "McCarthyism." Many writers and artists were taken to court, accused of being communists, and were "blacklisted," meaning they were not able to gain work. Thus, many lives and careers were ruined.

When not focused on the "red menace" of communism, the country turned its attention toward the future. Spawned by the pre-war interest in futurism and modernism as displayed by corporate America at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City, people's imaginations were sparked by the thought of transcontinental highways, labor- saving devices like washing machines and robots, and the possibility of space travel. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed to make space travel a reality, but the Soviet Union beat the Americans into space with the launching of Sputnik in 1956, further promoting anti-Soviet feeling in the United States. Government leaders sought to intensify the race by stating that they intended to land a man on the moon before the decade of the 1960s was over. The nation's interest in science fiction movies and comic books reflected this fascination with the future.

Compare and Contrast

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1951: The first thermonuclear device is detonated by the United States in the mid-Pacific. The island atoll of Eniwetok is obliterated by the blast. Few precautions are taken to protect nearby inhabitants from radiation poisoning.

1997: A significant percentage of the United States's electricity is generated by nuclear power plants, despite several near meltdowns in the last few decades, including mishaps at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, and Monroe, Michigan.

1951: The world's first commercial computer, the Univac, is produced by Remington Rand. The machine fills an entire room and requires several experts to run it.

1997: The Pentium chip manufactured by the Intel Corporation is installed in 90 percent of all new personal computers. A common microprocessor chip is about the size of a fingernail.

1951: Bell Telephone initiates the first long-distance direct telephone dialing.

1997: Communications corporations forge an agreement with the government to develop digital, high-definition television signals for television sets which will also be used to access the Internet.

Media Adaptations

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The Martian Chronicles was adapted as a film for television in 1979, starring Rock Hudson, Bernadette Peters, Roddy McDowell, and Darin McGavin. Directed by Michael Anderson and produced by U.S.A. Fries Entertainment, it is available through Fries Home Video.

"There Will Come Soft Rains" was adapted as a graphic story for the comic book Weird Fantasy, Vol. 1, No. 17, October, 1996.

For Further Reference

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Everman, Welch D. "August 2026: 'There Will Come Soft Rains': Overview." In Reference Guide to Short Fiction, First Edition. Edited by Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Everman examines Bradbury's assertion that "human life is poised quite precariously between the natural world which we believe we have left behind and the technological world which has outdistanced us, and, to our misfortune, neither of these worlds needs us to be what it is."

McNelly, Willis E. 'Two Views: Ray Bradbury Past, Present and Future." In Voices for the Future: Essays on Major Science Fiction Writers. Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1976, pp. 167-75. McNelly discusses Bradbury's short fiction, linking it to the larger, American short-fiction tradition.

Mogen, David. "Ray Bradbury." Twayne's United States Authors Series Online. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1999. A comprehensive biography of Bradbury, including sections on his upbringing, his literary influences, and his work.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Bradbury, Ray. Zen and the Art of Writing, Capra Press, 1973.

Bradbury, Ray and Jeffrey M. Elliot ''Ray Bradbury: Poet of Fantastic Fiction," in Science Fiction Voices #2, The Borgo Press, 1979, pp 20-9.

Finkelstein, Sidney. "World of Science Fiction," in Masses and Mainstream, Vol 8, April, 1955, pp. 48-57.

Gallagher, Edward J "The Thematic Structure of 'The Martian Chronicles'," in Ray Bradbury, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander, Taphnger Publishing Co., 1980, pp. 55-82.

McLaughlin, John J. "Science Fiction Theatre," in The Nation, Vol 200, No. 4, January 25,1965, pp. 92-4.

Pell, Sarah-Warner J "Style Is the Man: Imagery in Bradbury's Fiction," in Ray Bradbury, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D Olander, Taplinger Publishing Co., 1980, pp 186-94.

Touponce, William F "Some Aspects of Surrealism in the Work of Ray Bradbury," in Extrapolation, Vol. 25, No 3, Fall. 1984, pp. 228-38 B.

Further Reading
Everman, Welch D "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains," in Reference Guide to Short Fiction, edited by Noelle Watson, St. James Press, 1990, pp. 627-28.
A literary analysis of the story.

Magill, Frank N "Ray Bradbury," in Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Salem Press, Vol. 1,1988, pp. 209-309.
Multi-volume reference that contains biographical information as well as general literary analysis. "There Will Come Soft Rains" is not covered specifically, but the influence of Bradbury's past on his view of the future is explored.

Bibliography

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Bloom, Harold, ed. Ray Bradbury. New York: Chelsea House, 2001.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” New York: Chelsea House, 2001.

Eller, Jonathan R., and William F. Touponce. Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2004.

Reid, Robin Ann. Ray Bradbury: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Touponce, William F. Naming the Unnameable: Ray Bradbury and the Fantastic After Freud. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, 1997.

Weist, Jerry, and Donn Albright. Bradbury, an Illustrated Life: A Journey to Far Metaphor. New York: William Morrow, 2002.

Weller, Sam. The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury. New York: William Morrow, 2005.

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