The Veldt Themes

The main themes in "The Veldt" are the perils of consumerism and technology, appearances versus reality, and the dangers of inconsistent parenting.

  • The perils of consumerism and technology: Consumerism and technology are presented as forces that disintegrate the bonds within families.
  • Appearances versus Reality: Though the environments the nursery recreates are not meant to be real in a tangible sense, the vivid sensory experiences enable violent impulses to take shape.
  • The dangers of inconsistent parenting: The Hadleys fail to provide a clear structure of authority for their children, resulting in a sense of entitlement with drastic consequences.


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Last Updated on October 19, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1723

The Perils of Consumerism and Technology

“The Veldt,” a story written in 1950, centers around a version of what can be called a smart home. In “The Veldt,” the smart home symbolizes both convenience and danger, and it ultimately consumes its adult inhabitants. The story thus showcases Bradbury’s wariness around the excessive use of technology. While the story is disarmingly prescient—a home with smart lighting and other features is common more than half a century later—it is not just about the future. Bradbury’s views in “The Veldt” and other works he wrote in the 1950s were a response to the increasingly consumerist culture of the United States. By 1950, World War II had ended and the American economy was booming. America was entering a golden period of advertising, attractive and convenient consumer goods, and entertaining TV shows like I Love Lucy (1951-1957). This was the period where magazines were dotted with advertisements for appliances and conveniences like toasters and whipped cream in a can. Families gauged their worth by the latest appliances they owned. The love for things was accompanied by a strain of cultural conservatism and anti-intellectualism. In “The Veldt,” Bradbury considers what happens when consumerism is left unchecked. When does technology become too much technology?

In “The Veldt,” the entity most affected by consumerism and technology is the family itself. As the family at the center of the story relies more and more on technology to supplant human roles, the ties among members break down. The primary bond between parent and child itself gets corrupted, and ultimately technology figuratively and literally consumes George and Lydia, as well as the innocence and empathy of their children. The fate Bradbury imagines touches on contemporary concerns about screen addiction, the devaluation of empathy, and humans being made redundant. George may draw pride in the trademarked “soundproofed Happylife Home, which had cost them thirty thousand dollars installed,” but it also means he is beginning to view his achievements in terms of consumer products and brands. When Lydia expresses her worry that their efficient home is making her feel “unnecessary,” George responds that the reason he brought the house was so that they wouldn’t have to do anything. Even after he senses the danger of the nursery, he admires the “mechanical marvel” it represents. Thus, George in particular is oblivious to the perils surrounding him until it is too late. Here, George represents the hypermasculine ethic that the goal of life is to gain wealth and status. Lydia, representing a more natural wisdom, senses that technology is making the family less human, but she too late second-guesses her own intuition.

Unknowingly, the parents lead the children into addiction to technology. Peter and Wendy are only ten but stay out late at a carnival, where they take helicopter jumps for fun and eat unlimited fast food and candy. Thus, they are immersed in a heady rush of fun-filled, expensive adventures. For Peter and Wendy, the only reality they have known is one of extreme convenience and immediate wish-fulfillment. With their home anticipating and meeting their every need, the children forget what it means to make an effort. They turn into passive consumers. When George tells Peter there are other things he can do apart from playing in the simulation of the nursery, Peter responds, “I don’t want to do anything but look and listen and smell; what else is there to do?”

When this reality of passive consumerism is threatened, the children turn violent. The children can sense that their parents, especially their mother, are growing concerned about their attachment to the nursery. They...

(This entire section contains 1723 words.)

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begin resenting the parents for this concern, projecting their anger onto the simulation of the veldt. The more the parents worry, the angrier the children appear, and the more dangerous the veldt becomes. Thus, the family gets caught in a vicious cycle. 

Appearances versus Reality

In Bradbury’s story, the illusion of the veldt is not just real but hyperreal. Lydia’s initial concern about the nursery emerges from how real it is beginning to appear. When George steps inside the space, he begins to sweat under the hot sun and can feel shadows of vultures passing over his face. The lions appear so real and so near to him, he can almost feel the prickling of their fur. Later, Lydia feels the lions are charging at her and rushes out of the nursery. The world of the nursery is described extremely vividly: its skies are too blue, its sun is too hot, its smells are too strong. Since the nursery essentially creates scenarios imagined by the children, these exaggerated sensorial descriptions show that the children need reality to appear more and more real. In other words, even their imagined reality is getting boring. To be continually excited about this reality, the children need to keep exaggerating it. The scenario is close to chasing the thrills offered by video games, where the game world needs to become increasingly immersive for the player to engage with it. The children in the story ultimately need so much stimulation, it can only be achieved by real, graphic violence. Even the death of their parents doesn’t affect them emotionally, existing only as a stimulating spectacle.

In the story, George is unnerved by the nursery’s growing sentience. Still, he notes that even though “occasionally they frightened you with their clinical accuracy, they startled you, gave you a twinge, but most of the time what fun for everyone” such simulations are “when you felt like a quick jaunt to a foreign land, a quick change of scenery.” George’s confused feelings and statements in this passage highlight how easily the lines between reality and virtual reality can blur. They also showcase his rising anxiety about simulated reality getting too out of hand and coming to replace reality. The nursery is the peak of immersive virtual reality, a world which mirrors the psyches of the children. Lost in this ever-giving, mirror-like virtual world, the children withdraw from the real world. However, the story doesn’t just stop here, with the children lost in their addiction to virtual reality. Bradbury steers the narrative towards the uncanny, mixing elements of horror and fantasy in the dystopian plot. The virtual world actually turns real, with the lions physically eating George and Lydia.

This extreme turn of events shows that Bradbury’s concerns encompass the psychosocial impact of living in an alternate reality. Peter and Wendy first begin to revel in the violence of the virtual world they have created, then begin to relish the scenario of the lions eating their parents, and finally let the lions turn real and consume their parents. The unleashed lions symbolize the children’s anger and violence, unchecked by ethics or empathy. Because the children have forgotten how to live in the real world, they have also forgotten its values and limits. Overdependence on virtual reality leads to the children’s humanity itself being annihilated.

The Dangers of Inconsistent Parenting

George and Lydia often appear to be appeasing, and sometimes fearful, of their children. When George wishes to ask Peter and Wendy about their attachment to the veldt simulation, he doesn’t question them directly. Instead, he raises the issue as a joke, perhaps because he is afraid of unsettling his children. The children respond to George and Lydia with coldness and disrespect. Tellingly, in their introductory scene, they arrive too late for dinner, “cheeks like peppermint candy, eyes like bright blue agate marbles, a smell of ozone on their jumpers from their trip in the helicopter.” The school-age children have been out partying without their parents, while the parents wait to begin supper. The natural power dynamic between parent and child has thus been compromised. As the plot proceeds, this dynamic continues to deteriorate, with the children resenting their parents and the parents growing increasingly fearful.

However, the children’s reactions to their parents do not develop in a vacuum. The narrative suggests that it is the actions of the parents that have shaped Peter and Wendy. It is George who buys the family the HappyLife Home and installs the nursery to please the children. When Lydia wishes to turn off the home’s smart features so she can cook and clean on her own, George reminds her that the point of life is convenience. When George begins to understand how letting the children get their way has affected them, he remarks to Lydia, 

Who was it said, “Children are carpets, they should be stepped on occasionally”? We’ve never lifted a hand. They’re insufferable—let’s admit it. They come and go when they like; they treat us as if we were offspring. They’re spoiled and we’re spoiled.

Thus, he now goes the other extreme and thinks corporal punishment may be the only answer to the children’s behavioral issues. He and Lydia fail to see that they need not reward or punish the children: what is needed instead is their active engagement with Wendy and Peter.

The eerie and tragic end of the story is linked with the persistence of flawed parenting patterns. As David, the psychologist friend of George and Lydia notes, the children resent the parents for trying to replace the wish-fulfilling nursery with their own strict parenting. The parents have prioritized a life of convenience until very recently and now wish to drastically change course. Thus, the message they are sending out is mixed. To truly improve things, the parents will themselves have to change. David astutely observes, “George, you’ll have to change your life. Like too many others, you’ve built it around creature comforts. Why, you’d starve tomorrow if something went wrong in your kitchen. You wouldn’t know how to tap an egg.” However, as the story heads towards its climax, it becomes clear that the parents are too set in their patterns to change. Since they cannot change, neither can their children. Thus, despite David’s advice to the contrary, Lydia asks George to unlock the nursery to stave off Wendy and Peter’s tantrums. George unlocks the nursery to buy the family time. Once again, the parents take a short cut rather than deal with their children directly. These fatal errors cost the parents their lives.