In Bradbury’s story, virtual reality has powerfully altered the Hadley family’s perception of reality. In the Happylife Home, this technology takes the form of a “nursery”, a room for the Hadleys’ children that immerses them in any scene the can imagine. For the children Wendy and Peter, the power of virtual reality reaches the point where they would much rather interact with the nursery than with the real world. As George points out, “They live for the nursery.” So much so, in fact, that they kill their parents in order to keep using it.
Bradbury’s nursery presents us with a paradox. In “The Veldt,” the Hadley children are completely dependent on the nursery. As the psychologist in the story, David McClean, comments, the nursery has become their new mother and father. Yet within its walls, the nursery grants them a frightening amount of power. Able to create anything they can imagine, they are essentially little gods. But these are gods without morals: the story strongly implies that the children use the nursery to kill their parents. But some questions linger, unanswered. How conscious are Wendy and Peter of the severity of their actions? Has virtual reality dulled their sense of real consequence?
“The Veldt” raises important questions about reality that are most pressing today, as companies are actually developing vivid renderings of virtual reality. What should our relationship to this kind of technology be? Will virtual reality actually become powerful enough to trick us into thinking that it’s completely real (think The Matrix)? If so, will we lose control? And how far should we let our imaginations run? Perhaps there are certain ideas in our heads that should remain in our heads. The phrase “too real,” which occurs several times in this story, is loaded with these concerns. The power of the nursery gives George and Lydia a sense of unease; they come to realize that they cannot distinguish between virtual reality and their reality. Virtual reality becomes too real to be virtual; indeed, it ultimately becomes reality itself. The blurry line between the Hadleys’ experiences and the experiences generated by the nursery forces the reader to ask the question: if a machine-generated world is just as real as our own world, what meaning does our own world have?
The phrase “too real” also implies a culture of overstimulation that plagues society. It is perhaps the incredible vividness and intensity of the nursery that makes the Hadley children unable to enjoy the real world any longer. Like a drug, the nursery demands that one get high on images, on fantasies, and remain that way. Bradbury wrote this story in a time when television was exposing its first generation of consumers to image and information overload. Today, it is not only easy to imagine but almost impossible not to see a child’s or adult’s eyes peeled to a screen of some sort, oblivious to what is going on around them. This overstimulation—and the resulting need for even more overstimulation—leads Peter to say: “I don’t want to do anything but look and listen and smell; what else is there to do?” But, as the reader knows, there are other things to do, things that make people human: thinking, caring, and loving, among others.
“Too Real” Reality ThemeTracker
“Too Real” Reality Quotes in The Veldt
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
George Hadley stood on the African grassland alone. The lions looked up from their feeding, watching him. The only flaw to the illusion was the open door through which he could see his wife, far down the dark hall, like a framed picture, eating her dinner abstractedly.
“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?”
A moment later they heard screams.
Two screams. Two people screaming from downstairs. And then a roar of lions….
“Those screams—they sound familiar.”
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.
“I don’t want to do anything but look and listen and smell; what else is there to do?”
“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.”
“I don’t imagine the room will like being turned off,” said the father.
“Nothing ever likes to die—even a room.”
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.