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 Themes

The main themes in “There Will Come Soft Rains” are technological development, science versus nature, and human agency.

  • Technological development: Bradbury depicts a future in which some of the direst consequences of technology have come to pass.
  • Science versus nature: The story dramatizes the tension between science and nature, showing the latter to be the more powerful force.
  • Human agency: The story questions the place of human agency in the face of automation and destruction.

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Themes

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Technological Development

“There Will Come Soft Rains” centers around an intelligent house that proves to be nearly indestructible, even when the entire city around it has been destroyed in a nuclear blast. The nature of the house raises questions about humans’ technological development. After the nuclear blast, the humans become nothing but “spots of paint,” mere impressions on the burned house’s walls. Clearly, the house still stands even when the people who lived in it have been destroyed. The technology malfunctions and lacks the ability to comprehend that the people are gone. Even though no one is eating the breakfast it prepares, nor playing the cards it sets out for a gathering, the house continues to carry on its normal operations. This technology has outlived the population it served, yet it is unaware. There is something eerie about the house functioning as if times are normal.

Bradbury appears to express widespread fears about technological longevity. Will our technology outlive us? Have we done the right thing by expanding our technological prowess? What direction are we headed in? While Bradbury does not attempt to answer these questions, he instead implores his audience to consider the downsides of technological development. This story reflects fears about nuclear war and the rapid technological expansion associated with the Cold War. The 1950s were a decade of uncertainty and fear. If humans can produce a house that withstands a nuclear blast also developed by humans, perhaps we ought to be wary of our role in technological development.

Science versus Nature

Science and nature are juxtaposed throughout the story. Science is represented by the technology of the house: at first it withstands the blast, but it then succumbs to the forces of nature. In the story, science has no self-awareness. The house continues to function, picking up debris and incinerating it. Even when the family dog—who has been badly injured in the blast—returns to the house, the house merely lets him in and sweeps him away when he dies. Science is presented as impersonal, unchanging, and inhuman. More implicitly but importantly, the empty house gestures at the nuclear destruction that precedes the start of the story, another product of humanity’s scientific efforts.

Nature prevails in the story and ultimately leads to the house’s demise. The motif of rain is present throughout the text, such as when the voice chimes that rain is coming or when the “mechanical rain” of the sprinklers ceases. Since all the humans have been destroyed, all that remains is the nonhuman. Animals like dogs, birds, cats, and foxes that the house rejects remain in the post-human world. Even the poem that the voice reads at the end of the day, Sara Teasdale’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” emphasizes the primacy of nature, giving the story its namesake. The poem states that “Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree / If mankind perished utterly.” This is essentially what happens in the story: a windstorm fells a tree, which then starts a fire that destroys the house. The science of the house, man-made and unchanging despite the tragedy of the nuclear blast, comes to be eliminated by the ever-enduring forces of nature. Even after technology fades, nature will remain.

Human Agency

The theme of human agency is explored in “There Will Come Soft Rains.” More specifically, it is the lack of human agency that propels this futuristic tale. This is a world in which humans have been destroyed. The method of destruction is a nuclear explosion created by people with the power of science. After humanity has been killed, technology lives on without human interference.

The house also completes tasks that most humans, including Bradbury’s readers, accomplish themselves. Making breakfast, putting children to sleep, and even cleaning up dust are all taken care of by the house. When the humans were alive, what did they do? The house’s mechanization prompts us to ask questions about what role humans played—if any—when all their household tasks were delegated to a machine. In other words, what does it mean to be human in a world of machines?

It is worth noting, too, the personification of the house. Though it is mechanical and automated, Bradbury characterizes the house with typically human descriptions. It sings, sighs, disposes of waste with a “metal throat,” shudders, and shakes its “bared  skeleton” in the heat of the fire. For all intents and purposes, the house is what is left of humanity. Even the fire is “clever,” as if ascribed some of the same agency commonly associated with people. When humans are gone, human traits are assigned to nonhuman objects. In this way, an uncanny imprint of humanity remains, even in its absence.

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