Read “There Will Come Soft Rains” free here.
“There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury is one of my all-time favorite stories.
It was written in 1950, but the setting is an automated house in the year 2026. Bradbury was remarkably forward-thinking; many of the home’s automations are ones we enjoy today, including Roombas (although the ones in the story are more aggressive), ovens that cook on timers (although the ovens in the story also make the meals), and alarms throughout the day to keep family members on schedule.
The house is the last one standing on the block. It goes through the day’s automations, making breakfast for a family who isn’t there, cleaning an uninhabited house.
We go outside and as the sprinkler ticks on, we see the outline of our missing family on the home’s wall. Kids caught mid-jump, mom gardening, dad mowing the lawn, all frozen in time and in silhouette the moment the A-bomb reduced them instantly to ashes.
Back inside, the house serves dinner and puts out the evening’s entertainment, including mother’s favorite poem, “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sara Teasdale:
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
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.
Following the poem, a tree falls on the house and it catches on fire. Having used up all the water on the automated baths and cleaning, there’s none left to fight the fire, and this house, too, succumbs to nature.
Mankind has fallen, and with it, the advancements and conveniences we thought we had created. Nature reclaims the land and continues as it always has, impervious to the family or their magnificent home’s existence.
While it’s fun to ooh and ahh over Bradbury’s vision of the future (and I’ll do that with an infographic in my next post), it’s equally important to consider the historical context of the time he wrote the story.
In 1950, the Cold War had many people afraid of all things Soviet Union. Relations between our countries were tense.
In 1949, the Soviet Union tested a nuclear bomb. The US became frightened that we could be obliterated at their whim at any moment.
“The stakes of the Cold War were perilously high. The first H-bomb test…created a 25-square-mile fireball that vaporized an island, blew a huge hole in the ocean floor and had the power to destroy half of Manhattan.”
– Cold War History, History.com
The fear wasn’t baseless, but led to a sort of hysteria that extended to all things Soviet. It bled into a modern-day witch hunt for Communists and Soviet sympathizers and colluders in the US, which included the Red Scare, McCarthyism, and the Hollywood Blacklist. A “Communist” moniker could be career-ending and worse for a person.
Perhaps Bradbury posits “There Will Come Soft Rains” as an ode to nature. As if saying, “Silly humans. You were never the leader of this world in the first place. You will self destruct, with your frivolous inventions and interventions and wars. The true ruler of the land, which actually is the land, will continue as if you were never even here.”
Wow, I just put a lot of words into Bradbury’s mouth.
Give the story a read. It’s short, but impactful.