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.
Human Nature ThemeTracker
Human Nature Quotes in The Veldt
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.