The Veldt

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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.
Human Nature Theme Icon

The Happylife Home is Bradbury’s futuristic vision of technology nearing its zenith. It may seem strange, then, that the predominant image in the story is that of an African veldt. The juxtaposition between advanced technology and this quintessential image of nature merits investigation. Technology and Nature are usually imagined as polar opposites. The development of technology, we might say, has allowed us to become masters of nature. In “The Veldt,” the nursery allows the Hadley children to create any environment imaginable. In an interesting twist, though, Bradbury shows that the power of the nursery’s technology actually becomes a conduit for the expression of basic human nature.

It is significant that Wendy and Peter repeatedly imagine a barren landscape populated by vultures and menacing lions. The veldt is an emanation from their minds that aims to fulfill their desire—the death of their parents. George reflects that the children are too young to think about death, but then corrects himself: “Or, no, you were never too young, really. Long before you knew what death was you were wishing it on someone else.” David McClean confirms the children’s fascination with death when he observes that the nursery, instead of providing the children with a fantastic diversion, has “become a channel toward destructive thoughts.” The psychologist’s diagnosis of the nursery implies that the veldt represents deep and dark tendencies in the Hadley children. Bradbury may be referencing the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, who believed that children had unconscious drives to have sex with and kill their parents. Here, of course, the latter wins over, as George and Lydia, without realizing it, hear the children rehearsing their parents’ violent deaths over and over again in the nursery.

Bradbury’s depiction of human nature has moral as well as psychological implications. Bradbury wrote “The Veldt” shortly after World War II, when the public was intensely concerned about the implications of the Holocaust. What did the atrocities of the war imply about human nature? In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram would conduct a famous psychology experiment that showed that humans were quite willing to inflict a significant amount of pain on other human beings. It appeared that human nature was more amoral than most would like to think. “The Veldt” appears to reflect on human nature in a similar way. The Hadley children, having killed their parents, do not seem emotional about it at all. In fact, they act like civilized people, drinking tea, having accomplished their goal. Bradbury wants us to ask ourselves what we would do if we had complete control over a technology like the nursery. Would we be as selfish and destructive as the Hadley children?

The veldt pictured in the nursery can ultimately be read as a mirror of the barrenness that life is reduced to in the mechanization of humanity. You might expect the most advanced technology in the house to look sophisticated, but the opposite is true. Bradbury gives us a glimpse of the loneliness, savagery, and meaninglessness that has governed human history and that may be even more palpable today. Underneath all the sophistication, we are still animals, as viciously human as ever.

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Human Nature ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Veldt related to the theme of Human Nature.
The Veldt Quotes

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.


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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.

“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. 

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.