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Relationship between the family (man) and nature
The automated house of Bradbury’s story presents itself as the perfect environment for human beings—a space that readily caters to nearly every imaginable need. To do so, however, it relies a great deal on the natural world, both for inspiration (many of its automated functions, such as the robot mice, are based on animals) and for the raw materials to keep running. By having the house ultimately succumb to a fire and be destroyed by the natural world, Bradbury suggests that nature is more powerful than whatever man can create.
Bradbury physically establishes the animosity between the house—a symbol of technology—and the natural world. The house protects its residents from the forces of nature: its walls close out harsh weather, its kitchen machines spare humans from hunting and foraging in the wilderness, and the cleaning mice ward off the chaos of the outdoors, cleaning up the mud, dust, and hair that accumulate in a natural environment. This house even seems to take its responsibility to battle nature a bit too far. It shuts itself whenever “lonely foxes and whining cats” get too close. Comically, the narrator describes the stern response of the house to a sparrow brushing up against the window: “No, not even a bird must touch the house!” This protective impulse turns sinister when the house dispassionately disposes of the family dog’s carcass, treating the pet as nothing more than some smelly bio-matter.
When nature threatens to destroy it, technology is able to put up a comprehensive defense. For instance, when a fallen tree causes a house fire, machines come out in full force to battle the hostile foe. Mechanical doors shut against fire in an act of self-defense. “Blind robot faces” spray green fire repellent. And when fire-fighting fails, voices cry out in warning, as a lookout might upon spotting enemy troops. Yet even as technology tries to subdue nature, it can’t help but rely on it. This technology is created in nature’s image and fueled by natural resources. Machines in the house are often likened to animals, suggesting that nature has already created perfect “machines” that humanity simply is attempting to copy for its own ends. Furthermore, technology cannot exist without the raw materials that nature provides: the house has been built out of oak, wired with metal tubes, and it’s powered by the natural force of electricity. The house ultimately fails because its water reserves are depleted, meaning that it can’t put out the fire that consumes it.
Despite presenting an alternative to the natural order, technology ultimately looks weak compared with nature. After a day of fussing over the artificial environment that the house has created, the home settles in for the night. While the house is sleeping, nature launches its attack by letting a tree fall on the home, causing the fire. Though the house attempts to defend itself, the fire is described as “clever” and ultimately overpowers the upstart domicile. Bradbury seems to suggest that the victory is justified—that the arrogance of technology is finally being subdued. The eventual ease with which technology is outdone by nature suggests that it was arrogant and foolish to attempt to challenge the natural order in the first place.
In the end, nature can persist without technology, but the reverse is not true. The poem by Sara Teasdale paints a picture of nature persisting even when everything men ever created has died away. Since nature is vast and self-sustaining, it cannot brake or run out of fuel the way machines do. And even in the face of the overwhelming and devastating effects of technology—the atom bomb, which has reduced the natural world to a radioactive wasteland of “rubble” and “ashes”—Bradbury suggests that nature will prevail. There are still trees, birds, foxes, cats, and dogs at the end of the story, implying that nature may, in time, thrive once again. Meanwhile, people and their technology have been wiped from the face of the Earth, showing that nature is the ultimate winner of this struggle.
What happened to the people?
“At 10:15, the sprinklers turn on. The water runs down the west side of the house, whose white paint is completely charred except in “five places”: the silhouettes of a man mowing, a woman gardening, and a boy and girl tossing a ball “which never came down.”
This passage confirms the reader’s suspicion that the residents may be dead. Bradbury includes the silhouettes of the McClellan Family (readers learn the surname later) to demonstrate how fleeting life can be. Based on the everyday actions, each person seems not to have expected that his or her life was about to end. Death comes faster than gravity, as readers see with the “ball which never came down.”
Ideas for question 5
At 2:35, the house spreads out bridge tables on the patio. Playing cards, martinis, and egg-salad sandwiches materialize as music plays. Nothing is used, and at four the tables fold away “like great butterflies back through the paneled walls.”
The playing cards, martinis, and egg-salad sandwiches that the house sets out for the McClellans characterize the family as ordinary, since these were all popular items for Bradbury’s contemporaries. He fills the house with games, food, and drinks that feel normal to indicate that this family is like any other. In so doing, Bradbury implies that any conclusions the reader draws about this family apply to society at large. On another note, the bridge tables resemble butterflies. They are another example of technology imitating nature.
At 4:30, the walls of the nursery transform into a moving picture of a safari, complete with “yellow giraffes, blue lions, pink antelopes, lilac panthers…the patter of okapi feet and the murmur of a fresh jungle rain.” After a while, the animals retreat to watering holes and thickets. This is “the children’s hour.”
The safari theme in the nursery is the most visually overwhelming example of technology that depends on nature. Even though technology is trying to create a more entertaining replacement for the world outside, it cannot help but show content made in nature’s image.
The sunrise serves as a grim reminder that there is a new beginning daily—whether or not the legacy of mankind reaches that new day. The house has been reduced to a pile of rubbish, which makes the reader skeptical that technology or the impact of humans will be a part of the future. Even though time, death, and nature all seem to have succeeded where mankind and technology failed, one voice still grasps for control in vain. The clock that spoke at the beginning of the story tries to claim one last day with its dying breath.