The Veldt

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The “Nursery” Symbol Analysis

The “Nursery” Symbol Icon
The nursery is a product of society’s most sophisticated technology, and gives its users the amazing ability to create a virtual world from sheer imagination. A “nursery” is another name for a children’s bedroom and playroom, the place where children grow up. But Bradbury’s nursery actually helps raise Wendy and Peter—so much so that it replaces their parents. It becomes an addictive machine that gives the children massive stimulation, gratifies their deepest and darkest desires, and isolates the children from the real world. The nursery is a double-edged sword: it symbolizes the incredible possibility that technology presents, but also the danger of using technology for sheer pleasure, of getting carried away by its power, and of ultimately choosing technology over humanity.

The “Nursery” Quotes in The Veldt

The The Veldt quotes below all refer to the symbol of The “Nursery”. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Consumer Culture and Technology Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Veldt published in 2012.
The Veldt Quotes

They stood on the thatched floor of the nursery. It was forty feet across by forty feet long and thirty feet high; it had cost half again as much as the rest of the house. “But nothing’s too good for our children,” George had said.

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Lydia Hadley, Wendy Hadley, Peter Hadley
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Once again, the details Bradbury gives on the home remind us of the kind we might find in a catalog. Readers learn of its “thatched floor” and find out the exact dimensions of the nursery. These details help us imagine the nursery (in which most of the story will take place) but also echo the consumerism at the center of Bradbury’s story. It is an enormous room: sixteen hundred square feet of floor space, and thirty-foot-high ceilings. The nursery alone is bigger than many small homes, and its ceilings are more than three times as high as the standard nine-foot ceiling. 

We also learn that the room cost half as much as the rest of the house. George anticipates that an observer might find the nursery a little excessive, hence his suggestion that “nothing’s too good for our kids.” Throughout this story, Bradbury plays with the central irony of George and Lydia’s relationship to their children: the very things that they think make them good parents end up destroying their family. George is proud that he’s able to provide such an expensive nursery for his children, thinking it will be good for them. But as the story progresses, we find out that the nursery is very bad for all of them. George’s statement suggests his stubborn wish to be a good father. But by spoiling his children with this fancy nursery, he ends up losing control over the family.

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The lions were coming. And again George Hadley was filled with admiration for the mechanical genius who had conceived this room. A miracle of efficiency selling for an absurdly low price. Every home should have one. Oh, occasionally they frightened you with their clinical accuracy, they startled you, gave you a twinge, but most of the time what fun for everyone, not only your own son and daughter, but for yourself when you felt like a quick jaunt to a foreign land, a quick change of scenery.

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker)
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Now, standing in the nursery, George is swept away by its realistic depiction of the veldt and thinks the room came at an “absurdly low price.” Having just learned that the room cost half as much as the rest of their house, we might consider George’s thought with a bit of skepticism. He is swept up in the experience, and the words that Bradbury puts into George’s mind reflect this. George’s beliefs that a “mechanical genius” must have come up with the room and that “every home should have one” reflect his childlike excitement upon arriving in the nursery. Whenever George steps into the nursery, he seems to feel a bit like his children.

At the same time, Bradbury lets some of George’s fear slip through. Neither George nor his wife Lydia can ever decide exactly how they feel about the nursery. They are simultaneously amazed by it, afraid of it, and angry at the way it ends up an obsession for their children. George’s fears emerge for a bit, but then are replaced by the consumerist mantra “what fun for everyone.” Fighting against his primal fears about being near such a realistic lion, George forces himself to think of the fun his children might have playing in the nursery. Then George once again imagines himself having a good time in the nursery, just like his children. Yet we never see George or Lydia going to the nursery to actually enjoy themselves—instead they only go because they are worried by it.

“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, superreactionary, supersensitive color film and mental tape film behind glass screens. It’s all odorophonics and sonics, Lydia. Here’s my handkerchief.”
“I’m afraid.” She came to him and put her body against him and cried steadily. “Did you see? Did you feel? It’s too real.”

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Lydia Hadley (speaker)
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Here George offers his unconvincing reassurance to Lydia, and it seems like he is also trying to convince himself not to be afraid of the veldt. He knows Lydia is correct when she says the Africa in their parlor is “too real.” Through these characters, Bradbury is exploring the limit of how far we ought to take our technology. Like many works of science fiction before and after it, “The Veldt” is concerned with the boundary between reality and illusion. When the lines start to blur, bad things tend to happen.

This interaction between the Hadley parents is melodramatic, meaning there’s something overdone about elements like George offering Lydia his handkerchief. Meanwhile, Bradbury makes up a whole bunch of technological terms that reflect his sense of humor. He mixes the made-up terms like “mental tape film” and “odorophonics” with real ones like “color film” to make them seem like real features of the nursery. We might find “odorophonics” funny because it blends smell (odor) and sound (phonics) into a nonsensical term. In offering his explanation of the nursery, George exposes himself as an unaware consumer. He says meaningless things like “it’s all dimensional, superreactionary, supersensitive” and we learn that he doesn’t really have a sense how the nursery works at all.

“You know how difficult Peter is about that. When I punished him a month ago by locking the nursery for even a few hours—the tantrum he threw! And Wendy too. They live for the nursery.”

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Lydia Hadley, Wendy Hadley, Peter Hadley
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Upon hearing Lydia’s suggestion that he shut off the nursery for a while and give their kids a break from it, George is terrified of how Peter and Wendy might react. Before the literal death of their family at the end of the story comes the death of their family structure: George and Lydia have lost all control over their two children. Always back-and-forth in their reactions to the nursery, Lydia and George seem more like children than parents.

They cannot make a decision that might save their family without great fear at how Peter and Wendy will respond. Because the nursery seems more real than anything else, the kids have become addicted to it. As George says: "They live for the nursery." George is helpless to stop his children’s addiction to the African veldt. 

One other interesting thing: we might remember the names Peter and Wendy from J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan stories. Bradbury might have chosen these names to remind us of the way Barrie's Peter and Wendy escape from reality by going to Neverland. In Bradbury's story, the nursery is their Neverland—but it's more sinister the "realer" it becomes.

Remarkable how the nursery caught the telepathic emanations of the children’s minds and created life to fill their every desire. The children thought lions, and there were lions. The children thought zebras, and there were zebras. Sun—sun. Giraffes—giraffes. Death and death.

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Wendy Hadley, Peter Hadley
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

Bradbury is back into his humorous pseudoscience here with another explanation of how the nursery works. This passage takes place in George’s mind as he thinks about the veldt during dinner with Lydia. Because it is natural for people to have desires and seek ways to fulfill them, it makes sense that the nursery becomes an addiction for Peter and Wendy.

This is one of the places where Bradbury’s writing style reflects what his story is talking about. He begins with sentences and by the end of the passage just writes: “Sun- sun. Giraffes- giraffes. Death and death.” Bradbury eliminates the words in between to reflect how quickly the nursery picks up on the children’s thoughts and provides them with gratification.

How many times in the last year had he opened this door and found Wonderland, Alice, the Mock Turtle, or Aladdin and his Magical Lamp, …all the delightful contraptions of a make-believe world…. But now, this yellow hot Africa, this bake oven with murder in the heat. Perhaps Lydia was right. Perhaps they needed a little vacation from the fantasy which was growing a bit too real for ten-year-old children.

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Lydia Hadley, Wendy Hadley, Peter Hadley
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

By referencing some of the most widely known children’s stories in Western culture, Bradbury shows that Peter and Wendy’s time in the nursery started out innocently. They imagined things from their favorite stories and saw them on the walls around them.

But throughout this story there is something that bothers George and Lydia about the Africa scenes playing on the walls of their nursery. It seems like there is nothing more “real” than the veldt, where animals eat other animals in front of Peter and Wendy. Why does this bother George and Lydia so much? They fear that their kids are no longer interested in the make-believe of children’s stories and instead have begun to fixate on violent fantasies of the African veldt. Yet, with all their worries about what is “natural” or not for children, George and Lydia forget that there is, in some ways, nothing more "natural" than animals and their instinctual ways of life.

“I don’t know anything,” he said, “except that I’m beginning to be sorry we bought that room for the children. If children are neurotic at all, a room like that—”
“It’s supposed to help them work off their neuroses in a healthful way.”
“I’m starting to wonder.” He stared at the ceiling.
“We’ve given the children everything they ever wanted. Is this our reward—secrecy, disobedience?”

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Lydia Hadley (speaker), Wendy Hadley, Peter Hadley
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

The Hadley parents are surprised to find that their efforts to improve their children's lives with their technologically advanced nursery have backfired, leaving their kids unable to do anything but sit in the nursery and dream up images of the dangerous veldt.

George suggests that it's Peter and Wendy's neuroses--their anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues--that makes the nursery a bad match for their personalities. Yet, as Lydia says, the nursery was meant to help them "work off" their worries. The nursery, this symbol for a hands-off form of parenting, has failed to fulfill its purpose and instead has turned Peter and Wendy against their parents.

A moment later they heard screams.
Two screams. Two people screaming from downstairs. And then a roar of lions….
“Those screams—they sound familiar.”
“Do they?”
“Yes, awfully.”
And although their beds tried very hard, the two adults couldn’t be rocked to sleep for another hour. A smell of cats was in the night air.

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Lydia Hadley (speaker)
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Bradbury lays on the suspense. Lydia says the screams sound familiar, but doesn't say who they might sound like. The reader doesn't find out until the end of the story, but it's an ominous suggestion. (It's later revealed that the screams are coming from an imagined version of George and Lydia--the children are fantasizing about their parents being killed.) The two kids have broken into the nursery while George and Lydia try to fall asleep, further suggesting that the parents have little control over what their kids do.

Like at other points in the story, Bradbury uses personification to make parts of the Happylife Home seem like members of the family. Here, the bed "tried very hard" to rock George and Lydia to sleep. This is what we might expect the parents to do for Peter and Wendy. And given how distressing their situation is, an hour is not a terribly long wait to fall asleep. The Hadleys have grown used to a very easy lifestyle, so any relatively normal difficulty becomes a big one.

The "smell of cats" tells us that the nursery's "odorophonics" are working well to create the illusion of lions in the nursery. The boundary between reality and illusion continues to blur, and it becomes more and more clear that the lions in the nursery might actually be dangerous.

“I don’t want to do anything but look and listen and smell; what else is there to do?”

Related Characters: Peter Hadley (speaker)
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Peter's question "what else is there to do?" shows how deeply he needs the nursery to feel entertained. Looking, listening, and smelling: these are the attractions the nursery provides.

They're also the hallmarks of reality, and it becomes even clearer that Peter can no longer see the veldt as an illusion, a detachment from reality. It has become his reality, and when his father tries to take it from him he fights back viciously.

One of our great fears about consumer culture is that people who use products might become addicted to them, at the cost of things like family life or any human connection at all. This has clearly happened to the Hadley family, but in a twist of the usual tragic story it's the children--and not their parents--who have an addiction that tears the family apart. 

“My dear George, a psychologist never saw a fact in his life. He only hears about feelings; vague things. This doesn’t feel good, I tell you. Trust my hunches and my instincts. I have a nose for something bad. This is very bad. My advice to you is to have the whole damn room torn down and your children brought to me every day during the next year for treatment.”

Related Characters: David McClean (speaker), George Hadley, Wendy Hadley, Peter Hadley
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 21-22
Explanation and Analysis:

In another darkly comic move, Bradbury brings in a psychologist as a sort of false authority figure for the story. George and Lydia are failing to get through to their children, so maybe a psychologist will be able to. It is not really clear what Bradbury thinks, in the end, of the psychologist’s opinions. Dr. McClean’s last name suggests a joke about the way psychologists try to come in and purify (“clean”) their patients’ lives. And the sarcastic assertion that “a psychologist never saw a fact in his life” seems to place psychology next to the pseudoscientific explanations George gives of the nursery itself.

But the reader is also intended to see McClean’s statement that feelings are “vague things” as ironic. One of the Hadley parents’ biggest problems is that they don’t trust their feelings about the bad things the nursery is doing to their kids--but McClean does trust his feelings. Thus Bradbury suggests that maybe psychology, with its focus on feelings, with its hunches and instincts, can tell us more than other types of science about certain issues.

Either way, McClean sees the Hadleys’ situation as very serious. He wants them to tear down the nursery and bring Peter and Wendy in for therapy every day for a whole year. That’s a whole lot of therapy, and with this advice McClean is trying to express the severity of their problem.

“One of the original uses of these nurseries was so that we could study the patterns left on the walls by the child’s mind, study at our leisure, and help the child. In this case, however, the room has become a channel toward destructive thoughts, instead of a release away from them.”

Related Characters: David McClean (speaker), Wendy Hadley, Peter Hadley
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

In psychology, the term “projection” refers to the way people defend themselves from unpleasant things by imagining them instead to be part of people or things around them. In this story, the projection is literal: you think of something, and it shows up on the walls around you almost instantly.

Dr. McClean explains that rooms like the nursery were originally meant to help children by enabling psychologists to see what is going on in a child’s mind. But, in the Hadleys’ nursery, the opposite is happening. The more violent images they conjure up on the wall around them, the more Peter and Wendy want to see violent things.

This reflects another fear we often have about things like movies and video games: the more realistic their violence, the more we become used to seeing violence in our everyday lives. Instead of allowing the children to release their “destructive thoughts,” this nursery brings Peter and Wendy further into them.

“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 than their real parents. And now you come along and want to shut it off. No wonder there’s hatred there. You can feel it coming out of the sky. Feel that sun. George, you’ll have to change your life. Like too many others, you’ve built it around creature comforts. Why, you’d starve tomorrow if something went wrong in your kitchen. You wouldn’t know how to tap an egg. Nevertheless, turn everything off. Start new.”

Related Characters: David McClean (speaker), George Hadley, Lydia Hadley, Wendy Hadley, Peter Hadley
Related Symbols: The Happylife Home, The “Nursery”, The Veldt
Page Number: 22-23
Explanation and Analysis:

The psychologist delivers his final verdict about the Hadley family. As discussed above, the family's death is preceded by the fact that Peter and Wendy no longer need their parents. Dr. McClean blames George and Lydia for “letting” their kids find a replacement for them in the form of their nursery. Then, even worse, the parents try to take away the nursery. This is a pretty harsh judgment for a psychologist, who might normally spend some time exploring the ambiguity of their situation--but McClean isn't speaking as the Hadleys' doctor, he's speaking as their concerned friend.

Dr. McClean says they can feel the hatred from the Hadley children beaming down from the sun and the sky in the veldt. The emotional turmoil in this family is made real in the nursery, which functions as a metaphor for their inability to come together physically or emotionally. The psychologist goes on to recommend that they get rid of the “creature comforts” supplied by their Happylife Home and learn to take care of themselves again. He mentions an egg, just as George does when Lydia suggests turning off the home earlier in the story.

Even though he knows it will make Peter and Wendy hate their parents, Dr. McClean recommends that they turn the whole house off and start a new life. Of course, as we soon find out, it’s too late for these interventions. 

“I don’t imagine the room will like being turned off,” said the father.
“Nothing ever likes to die—even a room.”

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), David McClean (speaker)
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

George’s fear about the nursery extends so far that he is now afraid of the room itself: it will not like being turned off, he worries. The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that the room must, in some sense, have feelings. This is another place where Bradbury blurs the line between real and illusory. The nursery has taken on a larger-than-life presence in the story, and indeed has become the center of everything happening in the Hadley family. If the Happylife Home and the nursery are smart enough to do everything for this family, might they become so smart that they can develop feelings and begin to “take over” in some sense? Or is the nursery an innocent room, ruined by the children’s dark fantasies? Bradbury seems insistent on leaving these questions unanswered, leaving the reader to decide whether the Happylife Home and its nursery are sinister technologies or simple tools whose intentions become distorted by their users. 

“Lydia, it’s off, and it stays off. And the whole damn house dies as of here and now. The more I see of the mess we’ve put ourselves in, the more it sickens me. We’ve been contemplating our mechanical, electronic navels for too long. My God, how we need a breath of honest air!”

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Lydia Hadley (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Happylife Home, The “Nursery”
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

George finally lays down the law and decides that they’ll have to turn off the Happylife Home. His resolve will last only a few paragraphs, until Peter manipulates his father into letting them use the nursery one more time. Bradbury continues to hammer home the ineffectiveness of George and Lydia in deciding how their family will function. Suddenly, convinced by his psychologist friend to see the house and nursery as bad things, George is “sickened by them.” But it’ll be too little, too late.

Bradbury uses another trope, navel-gazing, which is used to suggest that someone is spending too long thinking about themselves. But he puts his usual humorous twist on the expression, using the more complex word “contemplating,” as if staring at one’s own belly button were a philosophical act. George calls them “mechanical, electronic navels,” suggesting that his family has been infected in some way by all the technology around them. They have become one with all the mechanical, electronic stuff they use to get by every day. This is contrasted with the “honest air” they might breathe outside their Happylife Home, the cave in which they’ve lived out so much of their lives.

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The “Nursery” Symbol Timeline in The Veldt

The timeline below shows where the symbol The “Nursery” appears in The Veldt. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Veldt
Consumer Culture and Technology Theme Icon
Death of the Family Theme Icon
...the family, “humming to itself,” Lydia asks George to take a look at the Home’s “nursery,” or to call a psychologist in to examine it. George agrees to look at it... (full context)
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
The parents reach the nursery, the most expensive and sophisticated feature of the Happylife Home. Before their eyes, the blank... (full context)
Consumer Culture and Technology Theme Icon
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon
As the lions approach them, George admires the “genius” of the nursery. To him, the room is a “miracle of efficiency.” It is so real that it... (full context)
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
Death of the Family Theme Icon
...food, he reflects that it would be good for the children to live without the nursery for some time. “Too much of anything isn’t good for anyone,” he thinks. The nursery... (full context)
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
Death of the Family Theme Icon
George enters the nursery and reminisces about the past imaginary worlds his children created. But this new world is... (full context)
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon
Death of the Family Theme Icon
...the children feign ignorance, insisting they haven’t created an African veldt. Wendy runs to the nursery, and when she comes back, announces that there is no Africa. The four Hadleys walk... (full context)
Consumer Culture and Technology Theme Icon
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon
Death of the Family Theme Icon
George and Lydia can’t sleep. They agree that Wendy changed the nursery from a veldt to a forest to try to fool them. They don’t know why,... (full context)
Consumer Culture and Technology Theme Icon
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon
Death of the Family Theme Icon
...his feet. He admits that he and Wendy have been creating the veldt in the nursery, and asks George not to turn off the nursery. When George reveals that he and... (full context)
Consumer Culture and Technology Theme Icon
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
Death of the Family Theme Icon
George and Lydia invite their friend, psychologist David McClean, to examine the nursery. David observes that the veldt doesn’t “feel good.” A psychologist, he says, works based on... (full context)
Consumer Culture and Technology Theme Icon
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon
Death of the Family Theme Icon
In response to the nursery getting turned off, Wendy and Peter become extremely upset and throw a fit. Upset at... (full context)
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
Death of the Family Theme Icon
Some time later, David arrives at the nursery doorway, and sees Wendy and Peter eating a picnic in a glade. Beyond them is... (full context)