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

Start Free Trial

What is the central conflict in "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury?

Quick answer:

The central conflict of "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury is between nature and technology. For centuries, man has used technology as a way of controlling nature, of harnessing its power for his own needs. But in the wake of nuclear Armageddon, the tables have been turned and nature now reasserts her control over technology that is now, in the absence of any human beings, quite useless.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On the broadest level, the main conflict of the story is human technology versus nature, but this can be understood more specifically as human pride coming into conflict with the natural world. The title of the story alludes to a Sara Teasdale poem called "There Will Come Soft Rains," which is also quoted by the house in the story. The poem highlights the central theme of the story: in a conflict between humankind and nature, nature will win. We are deceiving ourselves—we have an inflated sense of pride as a species—if we think that nature cares at all if we live or die. We have to adjust to the limits of the natural world, not vice versa.

This need to rein in technology is demonstrated, first, by the destruction of human society by a nuclear war that leaves the family the house serves dead. It is made clear a second time as the house goes through the motions of the day, trying to care for a family that no longer exists. When a fire finally breaks out in the house, no amount of technological sophistication can save it from destruction.

Bradbury's main concern when writing this story in 1951 was nuclear war: only six years before, the world was stunned to watch the power of atomic bombs to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, illustrating for the first time that our technology could go out of control and destroy all of us. This is still a threat, but more immediately, the story is relevant to climate change: if we are so proud as to think we can do whatever we want and nature will simply bend to our will, we are likely to have—or are having—a rude awakening.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is a general rule of storytelling that there must be conflict. A story without conflict is merely a sequence of events, one thing after another, with no drama or interest. "There Will Come Soft Rains" initially appears to be just such a sequence. There are actions, but no reactions. Food is prepared, sits untouched, and disappears down "a metal throat."

Conflict comes at the end of the story, however, when the house tries to save itself from the fire. This is man against nature, replicated as technology against nature, since the technology exhibits the instinct for self-preservation which characterized those who made it. Bradbury describes the conflict between the house and the fire as an epic struggle, personifying both as he tells the reader that "the fire was clever" and "the house shuddered."

The house's fight for survival, however, is the final conflict, but not the central conflict. This has already happened when the story begins, but the reader is invited to examine the evidence like a detective, to piece together a much greater cataclysm than the burning of a single house. In this conflict, humanity attempted to wield technology as a weapon to subdue nature, just as humanity has always done. Man lost the battle with nature, and the minor skirmish that occurs at the end of the story is a faint echo of his loss.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main conflict in "There Will Come Soft Rains" is between man and nature, or to be more specific, between the technology that man has created and nature. For generations, man has sought to control nature, to bend it to his indomitable will. Ever since the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, man's whole relationship to nature has changed completely. Nature is no longer something to live with, but a standing resource to control and exploit to satisfy man's needs.

In helping him to exploit nature more efficiently, man has made a number of technological advances. Such advances have also been used to provide an alternative natural environment to the one used and often abused by humankind. One such example would be the fully-automated house in "There Will Come Soft Rains," which attempts to replicate certain features of the natural world. Mice, for example, are transformed into robotic mice.

At the same time, the automated house exists to protect its human inhabitants from certain harsh and unpleasant features of the natural world, such as "lonely foxes and whining cats." The house will even protect those inside from a humble sparrow brushing up against the window.

Yet in the end, it's nature that ultimately triumphs in this epic conflict. Thanks to nuclear Armageddon, all humanity has been wiped out, so there's no longer anyone for the automated house to protect. The house and the technology on which it is based may have done a good job in protecting its inhabitants from nature, but it was unable to protect humans from themselves, as it was humans and their nuclear weapons that ultimately destroyed humanity.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The central conflict of the short story "There Will Come Soft Rains" concerns man versus nature, which is illustrated by the home's inability to protect itself from the destructive natural forces. The home is portrayed as a masterpiece of human ingenuity and technology. The home autonomously completes numerous tasks, which makes everyday life easy for its human inhabitants. It was designed to function flawlessly and provide a comfortable manufactured environment for the family. Unfortunately, the family that once lived in the home died during a nuclear holocaust, and all that remains is the autonomously functioning home. Despite the amazing capabilities of the home, it cannot compete with the natural environment. Once the large tree branch falls into the kitchen, the home catches on fire and is unable to prevent the flames from consuming it. The elements of nature are represented by the strong winds that knock down the tree branch into the home, which begins the series of events that destroy the technologically advanced home. The result of the conflict in the story represents how nature will outlast and overcome all human invention in the future.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The central conflict is that between man and nature. In this case the idea that man has invented incredible machinery that can govern almost every facet of life but still cannot control the forces of nature.  Though it is not explicit, it appears that mankind has been completely wiped out through some kind of nuclear holocaust and the house has continued to function as a servant to mankind.

But it too cannot escape the forces of nature, in this case the fire that destroys it.  So the power of man, manifest through these automated machines, is eventually completely wiped out by the inevitable forces of nature.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the central conflict in "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury?

The central conflict in this story is that of nature versus human technology. As the Sara Teadsdale poem that the story's title alludes to suggests, when technology gets into a conflict with nature, nature wins.

In the story, a nuclear holocaust has seemingly wiped out civilization. A single house is left standing, though the family that lived it has been killed. The house is quite technologically advanced and mechanically goes about its duties of caring for the family even though there is no family left to care for. It makes meals, sets up card tables, cleans, and even recites a Sara Teasdale poem. However, when a tree crashes, starting a fire, it is nature that wins—the house burns up and all its smoke alarms and sprinklers can't save it.

The poem and the story warn us that our technology cannot overpower nature nor save us from our fate. We need to control our technology rather than let it control us. We need to align ourselves with nature or we may very well wipe ourselves out—and nature will go on, completely indifferent to our fate.

Bradbury cautions against over-reliance on technology, implying it will lead to our doom.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the central conflict in "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury?

With regard to the central conflict in "There Will Come Soft Rains," Ray Bradbury has written an unusual story. The implied conflict is essentially mankind versus itself, and readers are presented with only the aftermath of this conflict.

Bradbury's cautionary tale observes that in the nuclear age, mankind has the capability of destroying itself en masse, and such destructive technology must not be handled simply and thoughtlessly as an extension of the technologies that make the responsibilities of everyday life easier.

Bradbury also observes the danger of not being discriminating in what we relegate to automation. While few might argue that mundane tasks such as cleaning are a meaningful expenditure of one's time, preparing children for bed and reading to them are, and to equate the two is morally questionable.

The author leaves readers to consider the irony of a scientific community developing an elaborate in-home fire suppression system while neglecting to offer a fail-safe for the all-consuming nuclear fire that destroys humanity.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the central conflict in "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury?

There are no human characters in the story, and so in a literal sense there cannot be a "Man versus" conflict. However, humanity is seen in their achievements, shown here by an automated house that exists for the sole purpose of making life easier for humans. However, the humans are gone, so the house must simply work, moving along as it has been taught without any higher purpose. At the end of the story, the house tries in vain to fight a kitchen fire:

...there were twenty snakes whipping over the floor, killing the fire with a clear cold venom of green froth.

But the fire was clever. It had sent flame outside the house, up through the attic to the pumps there. An explosion! The attic brain which directed the pumps was shattered into bronze shrapnel on the beams.
(Bradbury, "There Will Come Soft Rains," nexuslearning.net)

This last-ditch effort to fight fire shows the human aversion to being burned and the lengths to which humanity will go to protect themselves from accidental fires. In a more symbolic sense, then, this shows Man versus Nature, as Man's creation (the house) fights against a natural accident (the branch which blows through a window and spills oven cleaner on the stove). Since there is no human brain to make decisions based on instinct instead of pre-programmed responses, the fire (nature) wins in the end, leaving Man (the house) destroyed and forgotten.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the main conflict in "There Will Come Soft Rains"?

The main conflict expressed in the story has to do with the fate of mankind.  While the world lays in ruins outside the house, with the outlines of the former occupants burned into its side, Bradbury makes a point of focusing on the death and destruction of people, while the house, still remains.

He is making a larger comment on the potential future that humanity faces, the advanced technology is both a great invention and a great menace.  Clearly, the same society that created the smart house that takes care of everything is also responsible for the destruction of all the humanity.

Even though the house is so efficient, it cannot help the starving dog survive, he becomes a victim of the same technology that has made the former occupants lives so easy.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the main conflict in "There Will Come Soft Rains"?

This is an interesting question, as there really isn't a "character" to experience conflict in the story.  However, if I had to guess, I'd consider the conflict to be the house's inability to sustain itself without human oversight.  While things go on normally for a certain amount of time, such as the preparation and serving of meals, daily cleaning and maintenance, and even the reading of poetry in the evenings (hence the title of the short story), it is unable to stop the fire. 

Once the fire starts, the sprinklers and "robot mice" attempt to put it out, but without any outside assistance, the house can only hold out so long before it succumbs to the flames.  It's a difficult story to understand at some points, but at the same time, it shows that things not built by human hands (nature itself, wildlife, etc.) are able to survive just fine without our protection and intervention.  This is seen most notably in the poem by Sara Tisdale, included in the short story.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss how the title of the story reflects conflict within it in "There Will Come Soft Rains."

This is a rather unique story for a number of reasons, the first one being the complete absence of any form of human characters. The only "life" we are presented with is in the form of the robots that humans made before their extinction and then the few straggling examples of nature that remain, such as the dying dog. However, the title is explictly linked to the central conflict of the story, which is indicated through the allusion to the poem by Teasdale. We see nature and mankind set in conflict with each other, but the overwhelming message of the story is the way in which that nature is so much stronger and powerful than mankind, which it has already outlasted. Note the following quote from the poem:

And not one will know of the war, not one

Will 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 dawn

Would scarecely know that we were gone.

Ironically, the robot has chosen to read a poem that sums up precisely the scenario that we are presented with. Mankind has "perished utterly," but nature carries on regardless. In spite of our feelings of lofty grandeur, we are incredibly forgetable, and when we perish, nature will continue without even noticing our absence. We will have failed to leave a mark on the cosmos in the large scheme of things. In spite of the massive technological advances that man has been shown to make in this story, we still have not gained for ourselves immortality.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss how the title of the story reflects conflict within it in "There Will Come Soft Rains."

The title is reflective of Teasdale's poem of the same name.  The larger implications is the idea that the condition of nature is a powerful one.  Similar to the natural setting of the poem, where a "soft rain will fall" regardless of context and consequence, Bradbury's short story reveals that nature is too large of a force to stop.  Human beings cannot overcome the natural condition that has given birth to the world before them and will be present after them.  While science and technology has created impressive elements, such as the automated house, the cleaning mice, and the weapons capable of causing great damage, it cannot eliminate nature.  It cannot get rid of the natural setting that encompasses all existence and because of this regardless of what happens, "there will come soft rains."  In this assertion in both the title and theme, its relevance is evident.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the main theme of "There Will Come Soft Rains"?

The short story “There Will Come Soft Rains” is a commentary by Ray Bradbury on the destructiveness of technology. The society in the story has let technology take over daily life because it is efficient and convenient. The house in the story does everything for its family, including cooking breakfast and reciting the family’s favorite poetry.  Unfortunately, the society in the short story has been destroyed by a nuclear war, leaving only one house in the city standing. The house slowly starts to self-destruct as a fire ravages it at the end of the story. 

Bradbury’s ultimate message in the story shows the irony of letting technology take over our lives. The technology that society loved so much for taking care of them is the very same technology that destroys them in a nuclear war. Thematically, Bradbury cautions his readers in this story as well as in other stories like Fahrenheit 451 and “The Veldt” that they need to beware of becoming too dependent on and obsessed with technology. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on