The Veldt

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Death of the Family Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Consumer Culture and Technology Theme Icon
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon
Human Nature Theme Icon
Death of the Family Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Veldt, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Death of the Family Theme Icon

On the most basic level, “The Veldt” is about a family going through the typical problems that arise in family life. George and Lydia are parents who spoil their children, and then try to discipline them by taking away the toys they originally spoiled them with. In response, Wendy and Peter begin to hate their parents. The difference between the Hadleys and a real family is that the Hadley children’s toys are much more powerful than the toys that children usually play with. Eventually, the children’s hatred ends in a rebellion and their parents’ death. Bradbury’s story is a study in how technology disrupts normal family relations.

George and Lydia want the best for their children. So they purchase the Happylife Home, a home designed to make Peter and Wendy happy and fulfilled. Indeed, it does its job, but it does that job too well. George and Lydia become concerned about their role as parents in the Happylife Home; they feel as if they’re being phased out by their technology. As David McClean says, they have let the Happylife Home become more important to the children than their own parents. In a normal household, parents in this situation might be able to fix their family troubles. But in this case, Peter and Wendy are so obsessed with the nursery that they would rather kill their parents than part with it. Their new reality far surpasses a reality in which their dreams never come true. And the technology is so powerful that George and Lydia can’t compete with it. You can confiscate a video game, but not the nursery: it will find a way to get rid of you.

Perhaps George and Lydia are bad parents. On the other hand, perhaps consumer technology is just too powerful and addictive. Bradbury’s story might as well describe today’s culture, in which children and parents alike watch TV during dinner, text message during conversations, and are constantly distracted by their technology. One would rather be in front of a screen than another human being.

To Bradbury, the power of technology spells the end of family, and the end of meaningful human relations. If everyone has a nursery to create his or her own world, there may no longer be any need to have real conversations, to foster real relationships, with real people, in the shared, real world. In portraying the destruction of the Hadley family, Bradbury is voicing a fear that the consumerist world we are building will result in the destruction of the very idea of family and all of the values—love, respect, loyalty, companionship—that make possible our humanity.

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Death of the Family ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Death of the Family appears in each chapter of The Veldt. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Death of the Family Quotes in The Veldt

Below you will find the important quotes in The Veldt related to the theme of Death of the Family.
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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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.

“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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

“Hello, Mom. Hello, Dad.”
The Hadleys turned. Wendy and Peter were coming in the front door, cheeks like peppermint candy, eyes like bright blue agate marbles, a smell of ozone on their jumpers from their trip in the helicopter.
“You’re just in time for supper, said both parents.
“We’re full of strawberry ice cream and hot dogs,” said the children, holding hands. “But we’ll sit and watch.”

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), Lydia Hadley (speaker), Wendy Hadley (speaker), Peter Hadley (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Wendy and Peter enter the house speaking in unison, which gives them a kind of creepy or even robotic presence. They're also holding hands, which might be a bit strange given the other things we've learned about them. Peter and Wendy seem to have teamed up against their parents. It's also strange that they intend to watch their parents eat.

Bradbury's fantasy-world description of the kids suggests how spoiled they are, and how they treat all of life as a kind of entertainment for them to watch. They're addicted to their thrilling lifestyle, signaled by the fact that they've just gotten out of a helicopter.

They don't need their parents' dinner because they're full of what seems like carnival food. This furthers the sense that they don't need their parents, especially in traditional ways like relying on them to make food or bathe them. 

“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.

Peter looked at his shoes. He never looked at his father any more, nor at his mother.

Related Characters: George Hadley, Lydia Hadley, Peter Hadley
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Bradbury uses a typical symbol of disengagement from a social situation, gazing at one's shoes, to show that Peter is unable--or at least unwilling--to engage with his parents. That he "never looked" at his mother or father suggests how distant he has grown from them.

Whether Peter is guilty, angry, worried, or simply not interested in talking to George is not clear. But it is should be fairly shocking for George and Lydia to learn that their child cannot even look at them. This is one of many cues from their children that George and Lydia fail (or refuse) to really understand.

Bradbury picks up on a trope of the child distractedly interacting with his parents but turns it into something more sinister, a sign that Peter is drifting further and further from his parents, and towards something dark and 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.

“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.

He stared at the two children seated in the center of the open glade eating a little picnic lunch. Beyond them was the water hole and the yellow veldtland; above was the hot sun. He began to perspire. “Where are your mother and father?”
The children looked up and smiled. “Oh, they’ll be here directly.”…
A shadow flickered over Mr. McClean’s hot face. Many shadows flickered. The vultures were dropping down the blazing sky.
“A cup of tea?” asked Wendy in the silence.

Related Characters: Wendy Hadley (speaker), Peter Hadley (speaker), David McClean (speaker), George Hadley, Lydia Hadley
Related Symbols: The Veldt
Page Number: 26-27
Explanation and Analysis:

There are few things more traditionally “innocent” than a brother and sister eating “a little picnic lunch” together, but we come to learn that Peter and Wendy’s picnic takes place next to a very brutal scene. In the climax of Bradbury’s story, it seems that the boundary between the real world and the nursery has been erased completely. George and Hadley have been sucked into the veldt and eaten by the lions, while their children eat a picnic nearby. Peter and Wendy are seemingly just mildly entertained by the violence they're witnessing, and completely uncaring regarding their parents' fate--this family was "dead" long before George and Lydia are literally killed.

Dr. McClean, who comes across Peter and Wendy after walking into the nursery, is hit by the “hot sun” that he earlier claims signifies the children’s hatred toward their parents. He seems panicked, urging the children to go, and Bradbury suggests that McClean might be about to disappear too.

The strange formality of Peter and Wendy’s speech, and their bizarre tendency to speak and act in unison, reemerge here. Instead of saying “they’ll be right back,” the two children respond: “Oh, they’ll be here directly.” In the very last sentence of the story, Wendy offers the psychologist a cup of tea. They continue to manipulate adults with a false innocence and a false politeness, emphasizing the horror inherent in human nature--if children can act like this, then nothing is truly innocent.