What would the world be like if mankind disappeared? This is the theme of Ray Bradbury’s story “There Will Come Soft Rains”. All of the characters in the story are machines, which through personification take the place of human characters. The theme of man’s destruction reverberates throughout the story. Bradbury uses personification to describe the mechanical creations of man that eventually lead to the story’s theme of the destruction of mankind.
There are no human characters at all in the story; instead, there are machines with human characteristics. Miller notes that personification is constantly used to describe the house’s actions (1). This is seen in the first line of the story,” In the living room the voice-clock sang, Tick-tock, seven o’clock, time to get up, seven o’ clock! as if it were afraid that nobody would” (Bradbury 76). The distress of the voice-clock gives it a humanoid impression, which allows it to take the place of human characters. Another interesting example of personification is seen in the way that Bradbury describes the robotic mice. “Behind it whirred angry mice, angry at having to pick up mud, angry at inconvenience” (Bradbury 77).
However, machines are incapable of feelings. Hicks observes that readers are reminded that the rodent readers are mechanical, and that feelings-“those highly praised human emotions”-cannot exist in machines (234). In fact, there is only one living character in the whole story. As Jennifer Hicks points out, the only live being in the house is the dog, who enters mid-story (234). The dog is not very seemly. “The dog, once huge and fleshy, but now gone to bone and covered with sores, moved in and through the house, tracking mud” (Bradbury 77). It is pathetic and dying, much like the human race.
Life after the destruction of man is the main theme of the story. It is hinted in the story that an atomic bomb was the cause of man’s demise. Bradbury does not blatantly tall the reader that an atomic catastrophe occurred, but reveals it by describing the house and its surroundings (Miller 6). The reader is told that, “The house stood alone in a city of rubble and ashes. This was the one house left standing. At night the ruined city gave off a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles” (Bradbury 77). The “ruined city” and “radioactive glow” give readers enough clues to conclude that atomic warfare was the cause of man’s downfall. While it is known that the earth is now empty, Bradbury also indicates that it was empty before the bomb. Peltier suggests that this world was empty even before the destruction, with mechanical mice vacuuming and a sing-song clock telling time. The dull, mechanical world was empty long before people were taken from it (238). This can be seen in the nursery, where “Animals took shape: yellow giraffes, blue lions, pink antelopes, lilac panthers cavorting in crystal substance. The walls were glass.
They looked out upon color and fantasy” (Bradbury 78). Children do not even go outside to enjoy nature, but watch it on their mechanical walls, their lives growing more and more hollow and empty. Another point that Bradbury makes is that if man disappeared, nothing would care, or even notice. Peltier explains that “The title of the story, taken from the poem quoted within it, suggests that if humankind were gone, nature would not only endure, but it would also not even notice our disappearance” (237). Sara Teasdale’s poem best illustrates this. “And not one will know of the war, not one/Will care at last when it is done./Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,/If mankind perished utterly;/ And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn/ Would scarcely know that we were gone (Bradbury 79). Indeed, life would go on after mankind, and would go on peacefully.
Therefore, Bradbury’s use of personification describe the machines that eventually lead to the story’s theme of mankind’s destruction. Personification allows the machines to show us what the people who owned the house were like: cold, impersonal, and oblivious to the outside- characteristics that led to both man and machine’s downfall. The author uses the story’s theme of the destruction of man to show readers the effects of becoming too dependent on machines and withdrawing from nature and the world. The chilling thing about Bradbury’s story is the acknowledgment of human dependency on machinery today, and the realization that in such a technologically advanced world, the story could easily become reality.