The Veldt Analysis

  • "The Veldt" features two distinct settings: the Hadley's Home and the African veldt. These disparate environments converge in the Hadley's nursery, where Wendy and Peter recreate the veldt, which represents freedom and offers an outlet for their resentment.
  • The lions are an embodiment of Wendy and Peter's hatred of their parents. At first, the lions are just fantasies. Gradually, as Wendy and Peter's hostility grows, the lions become more real.
  • The HappyLife Homes are marketed as everything a modern consumer could want. However, the automation of day-to-day tasks leaves children with nothing to do but foster hostility for their parents.

Analysis

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“The Veldt” is narrated in the close third person, largely from the point of view of George Hadley, the father of Wendy and Peter. Set in a future which is highly consumerist and technology-dominated, the story has a dark, ominous tone from the beginning. The impression that is created is of a world which cannot sustain itself. Appliances and technology have become sentient, anticipating the needs of human beings and even replacing human labor and relationships. While this seems a great mechanical marvel, the flip side of such development is that human connection and empathy have become redundant. George reflects with pride that he lives in a “$30,000 HappyLife Home,” the overt branding showing how every aspect of life has been trademarked and packaged for consumption. Lydia worries that since the sentient house does everything for her, she has been rendered useless. The beds in the house rock the occupants to sleep, automated scrubbers bathe the children, and the nursery—the centerpiece of the house—soothes, stimulates, and listens to the children.

The descriptions of the nursery are vivid yet claustrophobic, establishing it as an arena for sinister happenings. While a grassland is supposed to be an open, green expanse, the heat of the sun and the closing circle of lions make the nursery oppressive and threatening. The oppressive atmosphere mirrors the story’s darkening tone as well as the state of Peter and Wendy’s psyche. This degradation is inextricably linked with the forces of consumerism and technology: the nursery has cost the Hadleys half as much as the entire house, its walls are crystal screens, and the room can produce smells and sounds to support the visual simulation. Bradbury uses made-up words like odorophonics (smells) to convey the strangeness of the technology, as well as George’s overreliance on technical terms to prove his authority. 

Despite the natural world it simulates, the hyperrealistic nursery has an artificial, tinny quality to it. In fact, it is the hyperrealism of the veldt’s world which makes it artificial and uncanny. The shadow of a vulture passing overhead flickers across George’s face, he and Lydia can sense “the sound of the matted lion lungs exhaling on the silent noontide, and the smell of meat from the panting, dripping mouths.” This graphic and sensorial imagery establishes at once the realism and the strangeness of the scene. The text suggests there is something deeply wrong about the world being this realistic. Such a realistic world implies a scene created by a mind increasingly craving stimulation. The children need a more and more realistic, vivid, and dramatic world to stay interested and invested. Further, an inanimate or artificial form turning real is a stock device in fantasy, horror, and eerie fiction, genres with which Bradbury’s story experiments. The blurring between the real and the artificial taps into common human fears of the unfamiliar. This depiction of the uncanny gives the story its unique register.

Bradbury further achieves narrative tension by leaving some details to the readers’ imagination and inference. For instance, it is never explicitly mentioned what the lions hunt and eat. The reader is left with the ominous suggestion that it could be a zebra or baby giraffe or something else. George’s wallet and Lydia’s scarf are discovered bloodied and chewed up in the nursery, suggesting that the children have been picturing the lions eating their parents. However, this is never explicitly stated. By leaving this dreadful possibility unconfirmed, Bradbury heightens the sense of menace and suspense in the story. George and Lydia begin to grasp their fate when they understand why the screams sounded familiar: the screams belonged to them. In the end, David may meet the same fate as George and Lydia. This suggestion is conveyed obliquely in the image of the vultures’ shadows flickering across his face, which echo the shadows that fell on George’s face. The ending is made bleaker by the contrast between George and Lydia’s implied demise and the smiling nonchalance of the children. Wendy even offers David tea, as if nothing has happened. This little gesture shows the childrens’ complete departure from innocence and empathy.

The story makes several references to literature and pop culture. Wendy and Peter are named after the characters in J. M. Barrie’s classic novel Peter Pan (initially a play, novelized in 1911). The names are ironic, since in Peter Pan, Peter, symbolizing innocence, cannot grow up, whereas in Bradbury’s story the children are depicted as overly grown up at ten. The jungle setting with Rima in it is a nod to Rima the Jungle Girl, the heroine of W. H. Hudson’s 1904 novel Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest. A Tarzan-like character, Rima has grown up in the jungle and symbolizes a union with nature. However, in “The Veldt,” the wholesome union between humans and nature has been corrupted by technology. The children are entranced not by the jungle’s enchantment but by their version of a veldt, which is brutal and horrifying. The children no longer conjure up the whimsical world of Alice’s wonderland, a reference to Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1965) or the magical Oz from L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). The references to children’s classics underscore the children’s growing distance from their childhood. 

Although the story is not fundamentally humorous, it uses irony to underscore its themes, such as in the references to popular works of fiction. Further, George’s obliviousness is often unwittingly ironic, such as when he tells himself the nursery is “fun for everyone.” Perhaps the biggest irony in the narrative is the characters’ persistent belief that convenience will make them happy. It is clear that life in the HappyLife Home is anything but happy, yet the characters come to this realization too late. Interestingly, “The Veldt” is not the only story in which Bradbury explores the idea of a smart home as an unhappy home. In “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1950), a sentient house goes on attending to human inhabitants who have died in a nuclear war. The technology which has enabled the creation of smart homes has also led, in parallel, to the destruction of human lives. Thus, it is clear that Bradbury in these stories has a circumspect view of the unchecked rise of technology.

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