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There Will Come Soft Rains

by Ray Bradbury

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Discuss the irony of technology's usefulness in "There Will Come Soft Rains" against a nuclear holocaust.

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In "There Will Come Soft Rains," there is irony in how technology is shown to be useful in the start against the backdrop of a nuclear holocaust by focusing on the meaningless efforts of the house despite a lack of human occupants. Humanity's obsession with and focus on technology in order to help them is ultimately what undoes them as a species.

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The biggest irony in “There Will Come Soft Rains” is that technology is supposed to make life easier for people, yet it has led to the destruction of the human race. The automated home demonstrates just how technologically advanced Western civilization had become before it was wiped out by nuclear armageddon.

But such technological advances were clearly something of a double-edged sword. For as well as making life easier for the family that lived in the house, technology also enabled the manufacture of devastating weapons that eventually led to the destruction of humankind. This illustrates the basic point that technology in itself is neither good nor bad. What matters is how it's used, to what end or purpose it is directed.

As well as the perfectly laudable aim of giving people a fair measure of comfort and convenience in their own homes, technology in this society was also used to create weapons of mass destruction capable of killing those very same people and billions of others across the globe. What technology gave with one hand, it took away with the other. Ironically, the very technology that was supposed to help people, to make their lives easier, now has no one to help.

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In the story, technology is only useful insofar as people are around to use it. The house, presumably, once helpfully reminded its occupants when to eat, when to wake up, when to take a bath, and even when to relax with a cigar or a thought-provoking poem, as well as lighting the cigar and reading the poem aloud. However, when humans push for technological advancements that become too extreme, too volatile and dangerous, the story warns, we will essentially guarantee our own destruction. The very technology that seems so "useful"—so helpful even—is but a step toward technology that results in catastrophe. This is certainly ironic.

In addition to this irony is another: that nothing humans create, no matter how strong, will ever be as powerful or resilient as nature is. The makers of the house seem to have prepared for everything, even fire, as little mechanical mice come out to squirt water on the flames, and water pours from the walls, dousing the doors that slam themselves shut in an effort to contain the blaze. Nevertheless, despite all of these precautionary measures, the inventive house full of ingenious gadgets is no match for a brisk wind and an errant tree branch. Nature barely has to try to undo all the work human beings have put into such technology.

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As the story opens, readers are confronted with an abundance of situational irony. A house exists to serve a family—yet this family is no longer there. The house issues announcements to rise from sleep, but "the morning house lay empty." It prepares a breakfast for its inhabitants, but no one ever shows up to eat. The house reminds its occupants of the date and of important information which they need to remember on this date, such as an anniversary and the due date of bills. Still, no one hears these reminders.

This house has been designed to serve humans and to make their lives as easy as possible. In the emptiness, it ironically continues to carry out these functions, unable to stop without the human interaction needed to deprogram such actions. Although the technology of the house shows incredible detail in its efforts to make human lives easier, it cannot discern that those efforts are no longer needed.

This leads to a greater irony in the story. Humans have developed fantastical technologies to ease their burdens in life, yet alongside this, they also developed the technology which destroyed them, as is evidenced in the human-shaped shadows burned into the side of the home. The irony in "There Will Come Soft Rains" is fundamental in developing a message of warning in the story, indicating that mankind has the capability to destroy itself through an increasing reliance on technological advancements.

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Your question certainly goes to the heart of this excellent story and what Bradbury has achieved by it. Note how at the beginning the house is presented as a complete organism that ironically does not need humans at all to keep on functioning. Robotic clocks carry on announcing the wake-up call, mechanised kitchens keep on churning out meals and the house robots clean and maintain it every day according to a strict schedule:

Out of warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted. The rooms were acrawl with the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They thudded against chairs, whirling their moustached runners, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at hidden dust. Then, like mysterious invaders, they popped into their burrows. Their pink electric eyes faded. The house was clean.

Bradbury thus emphasises the state of technological sophistication that mankind has reached in this future world. However, it is incredibly noteworthy that this story is probably one of the few I have ever read that does not have any human characters in it. The minds that designed such incredible technology are all gone, the only momento of their existence is the "five spots of paint" on the wall marking the members of the family whose house is the focus of the story.

In addition, let us not forget the massive irony of the title of the story. The poem that gives the story its title is all about the ephemeral nature of humanity, and how we are temporary in the large scheme of things, and how, when we do eventually die out, Nature will "scarcely know that we were gone."

Thus, through irony, Bradbury points out that technology can be dangerous in making us think more of ourselves than we should, and ignoring our fragile and transient state as beings on a planet. All such technology is very laudable, but let us not forget that the same minds that made robotic cleaning mice also made atom bombs capable of wiping ourselves out so completely.

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