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.
“Too Real” Reality Theme Icon

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.

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“Too Real” Reality ThemeTracker

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“Too Real” Reality Quotes in The Veldt

Below you will find the important quotes in The Veldt related to the theme of “Too Real” Reality.
The Veldt Quotes

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.


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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.

“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.

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.

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.

Related Characters: George Hadley, Lydia Hadley
Related Symbols: The Veldt
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

George goes into the nursery again, this time alone, to see what his kids might be encountering inside. He seems to be looking for flaws in the illusion, signs that the veldt is not real, but he can only find one. The lions are aware of George, and based on the technological explanations Bradbury has given us, it must be George’s imagination that makes them so. Amidst all his anxiety about his children and their nursery, George might be having some “death thoughts” too, projected onto the wall when the feeding lions look at him.

He sees Lydia through the door, which he has made sure to leave open, eating “abstractedly.” This means Lydia is preoccupied, and we have further evidence that their life in the Happylife Home is far from happy. Evidence like this throughout this story suggests that the two parents are extremely worried about their children, who in turn are addicted to the nursery and ungrateful toward their parents. In the Happylife Home, the Hadley family is quickly falling apart.

“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.

“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. 

“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. 

“I don’t imagine the room will like being turned off,” said the father.
“Nothing ever likes to die—even a room.”

Related Characters: George Hadley (speaker), David McClean (speaker)
Related Symbols: The “Nursery”
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

George’s fear about the nursery extends so far that he is now afraid of the room itself: it will not like being turned off, he worries. The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that the room must, in some sense, have feelings. This is another place where Bradbury blurs the line between real and illusory. The nursery has taken on a larger-than-life presence in the story, and indeed has become the center of everything happening in the Hadley family. If the Happylife Home and the nursery are smart enough to do everything for this family, might they become so smart that they can develop feelings and begin to “take over” in some sense? Or is the nursery an innocent room, ruined by the children’s dark fantasies? Bradbury seems insistent on leaving these questions unanswered, leaving the reader to decide whether the Happylife Home and its nursery are sinister technologies or simple tools whose intentions become distorted by their users. 

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.