Themes and Meanings
On the most obvious level, “The Veldt” is a gruesome fable about the destructive consequences of sparing the rod and spoiling the child. However, it is also a satire on the modern consumer society from a traditional, humanistic viewpoint in the style of several other Ray Bradbury works, such as Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and The Martian Chronicles (1950). In all these stories, technology, backed up by commercialism and a utilitarian philosophy, tries to remove the inconveniences, difficulties, and challenges of being human and, in its efforts to improve the human material condition, impoverishes its spiritual condition.
Technology’s offering in this story is the Happylife Home, which mechanically performs almost every human function, including that of the imagination. The nursery reproduces images of the children’s thoughts, in effect becoming their imagination. This relieves the children of the necessity of developing their imagination by contact with the outside world, so that, despite their high intelligence, the children never grow up; significantly, Wendy and Peter have the same names as the hero and heroine of Peter Pan (1904). Without the chance to mature, the children sink to the level of beasts, demonstrated when Peter says that all he wants to do is see, hear, and smell. Thus, they identify not with characters in traditional children’s literature, such as “Aladdin’s Lamp” or The Wizard of Oz, but with the predatory lions of the veldt.
The elder Hadleys also participate in this dehumanizing process. They have allowed the nursery to usurp their role as parents while becoming the childish dependents of their house. As David McClean tells them, they have built their life around creature comforts. They, too, have refused to grow up, to accept their duties as parents. Their avoidance of responsibility reduces them to the level of prey to lions. Unlike their children, they know what a more active life is like, and their present inactivity becomes constraining. They try to escape to a simpler life in Iowa, but they give in to the children once too often and are destroyed by the house.
The house itself becomes a living presence in the story; it is designed to provide services that should have been left to humans. When it makes the lions real, something it was not designed to do, the Happylife Home becomes almost godlike. Peter, in fact, regards it as a god. The killing of the elder Hadleys is the house’s way of survival. Ironically, the technological marvel that was to provide a safe and carefree environment for the Hadleys creates instead the violent world of the veldt.