The Veldt

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Consumer Culture and Technology Theme Analysis

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Consumer Culture and Technology Theme Icon

“The Veldt” portrays a futuristic society in which things, especially consumer goods, have gained a life of their own. In the name of convenience and contentment, technology fulfills people’s every need, reducing humans to passive beings who only eat, breathe, and sleep. Bradbury, who wrote this story in 1950, was responding to the post-World War II consumer culture that was rapidly developing as the U.S. economy boomed. It’s remarkable how closely his extrapolation of American culture at that time resembles our world today. In 2015, motion-sensing lights and doors exist in every developing city. More sophisticated technologies have replaced human labor in the job market. In other words, “The Veldt” satirizes a consumerist culture that has since grown to fulfill much of its author’s prophecy.

In the story, the Hadleys are coddled by the technology in their HappyLife Home, so much so that they begin to feel dependent on it. One might argue that this dependence becomes a kind of addiction. Through the Happylife Home, the Hadleys have all of their needs and desires at their fingertips. But they (and especially their children) can no longer imagine life without a mechanical mediator enhancing every experience. Lydia, the mother, is the first to view the Happylife Home as a threat. She begins to feel “unnecessary,” and wants to experience the sensation of performing normal human tasks once again, so she suggests that they take a “vacation” and shut off the Home for some time. The mechanization of life makes the Hadley parents not only feel useless, but also inhuman. Without their daily routines to perform, they find that the Happylife Home has taken away the purpose and, therefore, the joy of their lives. George refers to the family as having “mechanical, electronic navels,” and implies that they are not truly living when under the influence of the Happylife Home.

The assumption that convenience leads to happiness is one of the story’s major critiques of the consumerist, technological society that it depicts. The Happylife Home, which does everything for the Hadleys, including cutting their food, is designed with the belief that making life easier—so easy that its residents don’t have to lift a finger—will make those residents happier individuals. This assumption posits technology as the answer to many of our “first-world” concerns. But in “The Veldt,” we see the Happylife Home have the opposite effect on the Hadley family. Instead of feeling happier and more fulfilled, the parents experience their lives drained of meaning as they essentially cease to be necessary as parents. The children, for their part, don’t even understand that their lives have lost so much meaning. They are so dependent on the Happylife Home that their own parents—that relationships to other people in general—are rendered valueless to them.

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Consumer Culture and Technology Quotes in The Veldt

Below you will find the important quotes in The Veldt related to the theme of Consumer Culture and Technology.
The Veldt Quotes

They walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife Home, which had cost them thirty thousand dollars installed, this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.

Related Characters: George Hadley, Lydia Hadley, Wendy Hadley, Peter Hadley
Related Symbols: The Happylife Home
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Having convinced her husband George to go check their nursery, Lydia Hadley walks with him through their house. Bradbury calls it the Happylife Home, in a sarcastic nod to the false happiness that the home will bring them. In telling us how much the home costs “installed,” Bradbury suggests the home is primarily a purchasable, manufactured product—it is standardized, came as one complete unit, and can be bought by anyone with the money to afford it. If this home does make the family happy, it won't be a unique or hard-won happiness. 

As we quickly find out, these characters are helpless, relying on their home to do just about everything for them. Bradbury lists out all the things that the Happylife Home can do for them, like a list of "features" in a catalog. Later in the story, George has a hard time even imagining that they might cook for themselves or live without the many luxuries of their Happylife Home. Bradbury knows that this sort of technology can be very tempting, as we imagine ourselves being cooked for and cared for by a smart home. But their Happylife Home lures the Hadley family into a false sense of happiness, makes them unable to do anything for themselves, and ultimately spells the end of George and Lydia.


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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.

“Maybe I don’t have enough to do. Maybe I have time to think too much. Why don’t we shut the whole house off for a few days and take a vacation?”
“You mean you want to fry my eggs for me?”
“Yes.” She nodded….
“But I thought that’s why we bought the house, so we wouldn’t have to do anything.”
“That’s just it. I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub bath can? I cannot.”

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Lydia Hadley (speaker), Wendy Hadley, Peter Hadley
Related Symbols: The Happylife Home
Page Number: 12-13
Explanation and Analysis:

Lydia worries that her nervousness might come from having too much time to think, a common fear in modern society. Bradbury puts an ironic spin on this, because it doesn’t seem like either Lydia or George have been doing much thinking at any point in the story. Still, she might be onto something in suggesting that they don’t have enough to do. When the house does everything for them, what’s left to focus on?

The Hadleys are so deeply immersed in their technological trap that they can’t imagine people cooking for themselves. But the fact that George even brings up the fried eggs suggests that he remembers a time when people— and not their houses— cooked breakfast.

As Lydia explains, the house has essentially replaced her (assuming that she previously took on the role of domestic housewife). She can’t keep up with the “too real” images displayed for her children in the nursery, and her role as a caretaker has been eliminated. Perhaps, as Bradbury suggests, the roles of each family member in supporting the family as a whole are a key part of the family’s survival. Still, George resists the idea that they might shut off the house and go away—and his reluctance seems to be because of the money he spent on it. They "bought" the house and nursery, so he doesn't want to waste it, even if it's making the family fall apart.

He chewed tastelessly on the meat that the table had cut for him. Death thoughts. They were awfully young, Wendy and Peter, for death thoughts. Or, no, you were never too young, really. Long before you knew what death was you were wishing it on someone else.

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Wendy Hadley, Peter Hadley
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

George chews “tastelessly” on the meat made for them by their Happylife Home. This suggests either that the food their fancy house makes for them is not very good, or that George is so nervous about the nursery that he can’t taste the food he is eating.

The reader is still immersed in George’s mid-dinner thoughts about the nursery. This is one of Bradbury’s more interesting reflections on the ways children think about life and death. George seems to debate with himself in his own head: first he thinks his kids are too young to think about death, and then he decides the opposite. This is a rather dark reflection on human nature, with George’s conclusion that kids are wishing death on other people before they even know what it is. It foreshadows the end of the story, when Peter and Wendy successfully wish death on 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.

“Matter of fact, we’re thinking of turning the whole house off for about a month. Live sort of a carefree one-for-all existence.”
“That sounds dreadful! Would I have to tie my own shoes instead of letting the shoe tier do it? And brush my own teeth and comb my hair and give myself a bath?”
“It would be fun for a change, don’t you think?”
“No, it would be horrid….”

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Peter Hadley (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Happylife Home
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

When George tells Peter that they're considering turning off their house for only "about a month," Peter can't imagine life without the Happylife Home doing everything for them. Any sort of independence-- tying his shoes, bathing, and so on-- is almost impossible for Peter to imagine.

Bradbury continues to use lofty, almost British-sounding words in Peter and Wendy's dialogue. Peter uses the words "dreadful" and "horrid," in a caricature of what a kid's tantrum might really sound like. Bradbury often uses misplaced words in ways like this to make his dialogue strange and comic.

Once again, George fails to have any influence on what his children want to do. He tries to make the situation sound fun, but Peter wants to hear none of it. And Bradbury's fictional technologies continue to show up in the story, with the "shoe tier" as an amusing example.

“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. 

“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. 

“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.

The house was full of dead bodies, it seemed. It felt like a mechanical cemetery. So silent. None of the humming energy of machines waiting to function at the tap of a button.

Related Symbols: The Happylife Home
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

In the brief period when the Hadleys have turned the house off, it seems strange to them that their lives aren’t accompanied by the humming of technology. This is a provocative passage from Bradbury, with the house “full of dead bodies.” Given that it seems like a “mechanical cemetery,” the dead bodies might be all the disabled machines. There is a void now that the machines are turned off, but once they are back on it will be a different type of dead bodies somewhere in the house.

The other aspect of these machines is their persistent state of “waiting to function” for the user. The machines never have any downtime, or decide they’d rather not fulfill their duty, and so they offer instant gratification to the Hadley family. To have everything at the touch of a button, and then to have none of it, would be jarring indeed. Yet the reader gets the sense that, if the Hadleys are able to make it through this first stretch of life without constant technological help, they might make it as a family. Tragically, this won’t be the case.

“I wish you were dead!”
“We were, for a long while. Now we’re going to really start living. Instead of being handled and massaged, we’re going to live.”

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

This is George's breakthrough moment, when he'll finally set the family back on course, or so we're meant to think. George's heroic pronouncement is prompted by Peter's disturbing wish. Of course, as foreshadowed throughout the story, George’s brand of heroism will crumble easily under pressure from his son. He pronounces triumphantly that now, without the Happylife Home in their way, the Hadleys will “really start living.” It’s an intriguing idea, and Bradbury picks up on the way that we all sometimes make earnest commitments only to forget them only a few hours later.

The evil that George mentions here, “being handled and massaged,” relates more directly to the Happylife Home than to the nursery itself. Even though the nursery seems like the most addictive and the most dangerous element of their home, the focus of George’s commitment to a new life is his decision to no longer be taken care of by the home. His failure to adequately explain to Peter that it’s the nursery that is most pressingly in need of being turned off, or why the nursery might be harmful for them in the first place, is another missed chance for him to connect with Peter and save the family from its rapidly approaching destruction.