The Veldt Themes

The main themes in "The Veldt" are reality versus fantasy, technology, and consumerism.

  • Realty versus fantasy: 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.
  • Technology: Technology is presented as something that disintegrates the bonds between families. Calling the sensory chamber a "nursery" highlights how technology has usurped the role of parents in their childrens' lives.
  • Consumerism: The Hadleys buy their Happylife Home in a display of wealth. However, while they are materially rich, the Hadleys become emotionally impoverished by the automation of their lives.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 428

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.

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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.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 859

Abandonment
Abandonment occurs on two levels in Bradbury’s story. First, the children are figuratively abandoned by their parents when they are left in the care of a technological baby sitter. As the character of David McClean tells George, “You’ve let this room and this house replace you and your wife in your children’s affections. This room is their mother and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents.” This accidental abdication of parental responsibility sets the children up to become emotionally attached to the nursery. Then, when George threatens to turn off the nursery, the children are terrified because now they are going to be abandoned by their new, surrogate parent, the nursery.

Alienation
Alienation occurs when one feels cut off or estranged from what used to be comfortable and familiar. A sense of isolation and uneasiness takes over. In “The Veldt,” this theme is embodied in the character of Lydia. She is the first to recognize that there is something unfamiliar happening in the house and urges George to take a look at the nursery because, it “is different now than it was.” Lydia clearly recognizes her own feelings of alienation when she admits very early in the story, “I feel like I don’t belong here. “

Consumerism
George Hadley embodies the theme of consumerism because he believes in providing the best that money can buy for his family. George believes that he can show his family love by buying them things. Allowing material possessions to stand in for direct human interaction and expressions of love, however, is what ultimately sets George up as the enemy to his children. The theme is succinctly summed up near the end of the story when George asks Lydia, “What prompted us to buy a nightmare?” and she replies, “Pride, money, foolishness.”

Dystopia
A dystopia is a place in which people lead fearful, dehumanized lives. It is the opposite of a utopia. Dystopias often serve as warnings of potential dangers that can be brought on through the misuse of technology or power. In “The Veldt,” Bradbury turns the Hadley’s Happy-life Home into a dystopia that gradually dehumanizes the children and destroys the parents. The dangers are revealed slowly through the story as George begins to realize that the wonderful home that he has provided for his family might not be so wonderful at all. His dream home actually turns into a nightmare.

Illusion versus Reality
The ability to distinguish illusion from reality and the co-mingling of the two is a key theme in “The Veldt.” George ultimately agrees to turn on the nursery one more time, thus putting himself and his wife in jeopardy, because he believes that there is a definite distinction between illusion and reality. Something that is an illusion can never become truly “real.” This is why George believes that the lions pose no real threat. They are only part of a machine that creates wonderful illusions, “Walls, Lydia, remember; crystal walls, that’s all they are. Oh, they look real, I must admit—Africa in your parlor—but it’s all dimensional superactionary, supersensitive color film and mental tape film behind glass screens.” What George fails to understand is, in the world of this short story, illusion and reality are transposable. One can become the other at any moment.

Man versus Machine
One of the major conflicts in Bradbury’s story is that of man versus machine. The story is built around the struggle to control and direct the destructive power of the nursery’s technology. Whoever controls the machine will have the ultimate power. In this story man is destroyed by the machines in two ways: not only are George and Lydia murdered by the nursery’s technology, but the children’s humanity is also destroyed. By identifying so closely with the nursery, the children have become less than human. They feel no guilt, remorse or regret when their parents die, and it is clear that they have become as cold and emotionless as the machinery that controls the nursery.

Revenge
“The Veldt” can be read as the ultimate children’s revenge story. Children often feel powerless against adults and create elaborate fantasies in which they have the power to conquer any adult who refuses to give them what they want. George triggers these fantasies in Peter and Wendy when he forbids them to take the rocket to New York. The children are used to getting their own way, and they become very angry when they cannot have what they want. Thus the cycle of revenge is set in motion.

Telepathy
Telepathy plays an important role in “The Veldt” as it provides the medium through which the weapons are deployed. The room manifests thought patterns on its walls, thus creating the possibility for evil thoughts to conjure up evil things. The children are able to use their telepathy to direct their destructive powers into the nursery images, thus creating a deadly setting for their parents. In the scientifically advanced world of this short story, thoughts have now become weapons, and children can kill their parents just by wishing them dead.

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