Ray Bradbury wrote The Illustrated Man in 1951. The general context of that time in the USA had a powerful impact on the themes he chose to base his book on. The Second World War had seen horrific crimes against humanity, dictatorship and a change in family life which was due to both the huge number of dead fathers and the great technological development. Women started working more and more in jobs previously seen as exclusively male and appliances such as the washing machine and the vacuum cleaner cleared more time for the typical housewife.
Affected and inspired by these circumstances, Bradbury wrote his 18 different stories in the book, exploring family life, technology implications and politics from extreme points of view. The stories chosen here to be discussed in a comparative and contrasting manner are “The Veldt”, “The Rocket”, “Zero Hour”, “The Fox and the Forest” and “The Other Foot”. The main reason for choosing these is their outstanding figurative representation and artistic input.
Family life takes a new turn, as Bradbury presents in “The Veldt”, and it isn’t positive. The father-son relationship deteriorates as we can see from their conversations. Even though the parents have done their best to fulfil all their children’s wishes, the final effect is a tense family relationship, mainly characterised by the children’s selfishness. Peter, the son, regards his father as nothing more than a sort of institution to fight against, rather than anything close to his heart. “What’s wrong with Africa, Father?” calling him “Father,” on multiple occasions after initially calling him “Dad,” Also, there is some verbal violence between them, as suggested “I don’t think you’d better consider it any more, Father,” “I won’t have any threats from my son!”
However, “The Rocket” provides a completely different picture. Although poor, all members of the family get along and support each other with respect. “‘I go to Mars!’ He danced wildly. ‘Thank you, Father!'” The children are grateful for everything and love their parents. In opposition to Peter and Wendy from “The Veldt”, the children here are selfless.
Another heavy element in Bradbury’s view of the future is the power of imagination. Once more, this is portrayed as evil or heavenly. In “The Veldt” the children end up killing their parents through the sole mean of imagination fuelled by the “nursery”. A similar scenario is suggested in “Zero Hour” where aliens abuse children’s rich potential for imagination to invade the perfectly defended Earth. A brighter story from this point of view is “The Rocket”, because the father uses the power of imagination and simulation to offer his children an amazing experience which would have been impossible to achieve in their materially limited reality.
The technology bloom in the 1950s influenced Bradbury to magnify his vision of the future in terms of the way homes looked and worked, as well as space travel and time travel. The parents in “The Veldt” buy a “Happy Home” which does everything for them: cooks, cleans and rocks them to bed. This seems amazing at first, but they end up wishing they could leave their perfect home behind and “start fresh” in a regular house, “You’re beginning to feel unnecessary, too,” says Lydia.
Bradbury uses figures of speech to represent this, emphasizing on personification of dead objects “And although their beds tried very hard, the two adults couldn’t be rocked to sleep for another hour,” Also, it appears that children come to replace their parents with the nursery, “I wish you were dead!” “We were, for a long while,” The father realises that he and his wife haven’t spent enough time with their children, making them feel more attached to machinery, “That sounds dreadful! Would I have to tie my own shoes instead of letting the shoe tier do it?”
The language Bradbury uses to describe the nursery is very effective. He uses the senses to emphasize the powerful reproduction of the African veldt, “The hot straw smell of lion grass, the cool green smell of the hidden water hole, the great rusty smell of animals, the smell of dust like a red paprika in the hot air,” The simile “dust like a red paprika” and the repetition “smell” give a good impression of the veldt, the heat and the strong odours in the air.
Another technological vision present in Bradbury’s writings is space travel. In “The Rocket”, rich people are able to travel and live in space. This is shown as a part of their daily routine, as Bodoni watches the rockets every night and his children have rocket toys. Also, he is able to buy a ticket “next day”, emphasizing on the ease with which people travel in space.
In “The Fox and the Forest” people are able to travel in the past, anywhere, “Travel in Time, Inc., can costume you, put you in a crowd during the assassination of Lincoln or Caesar!” This shows the extent to which Bradbury sees the technology rise.
Perhaps the most horrifying element of the stories is war within the context of dictatorship and dystopia. A well-portrayed story from this point of view is “The Fox and the Forest”. Mexico is celebrating during WW2, “Everything was good and sweet, the air was that blend of the dead and the living, of the rains and the dusts, of the incense from the church, and the brass smell of the tubas on the bandstand which pulsed out vast rhythms of ‘La Paloma’,” The atmosphere in Mexico contrasts with the one in the future in the year 2155.
The use of language here portrays a horrible world of war and dictatorship, “A world that was like a great black ship pulling away from the shore of sanity and civilization, roaring its black horn in the night, taking two billion people with it, whether they wanted to go or not, to death, to fall over the edge of the earth and the sea into radioactive flame and madness,” The repetition of the word “black” in “black ship” and “black thorn” signifies death, nothingness and everything evil; the simile “A world […] like a great black ship pulling away from […] civilization,” shows how the world has shrunk all its possibilities into a black vessel that no one can get out of. The world has lost all its spirit and joy, and all that remained was a continuous chain of destruction and manslaughter. This is a great way of representing dystopia.
The political and social elements present in Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man reflect warnings to humanity, a potential Third World War and its imminence. In “The Other Foot” there is a strong reference to the racism experienced by black people during the 20th century. “You remember how they hung my father on Knockwood Hill and shot my mother?” Despite this, the story ends in a positive tone, reflecting Bradbury’s hope for the future, even in the event that most of it is destroyed. “Now everything’s even. We can start all over again, on the same level,”
Bradbury’s views of the future contrast on all levels, peace and war, wealth and poverty, good families and bad families. In his dark visions there is always a spark of light and in his most utopic views there is a pinch of evil.