A Sound of Thunder

A Sound of Thunder Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ray Bradbury

Bradbury spent his childhood in Waukegan, Illinois with his parents Leonard and Ester before the family moved to Los Angeles, California in 1934. A voracious reader, Bradbury decided to become a writer around the age of 12. After finishing high school, however, Bradbury could not afford to attend college and instead educated himself by reading at the public library. He earned a living by selling newspapers while he worked on his writing, finally selling his first story “Pendulum” in 1941, just before the United Stated entered World War II. Bradbury was not drafted due to his poor vision and managed to become a full-time writer during the war. He published his first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival, in 1947. That was also the year he married Marguerite “Maggie” McClure, with whom he would have four daughters. Bradbury published his best-known work, Fahrenheit 451, in 1953. The book, which was incredibly well-received, spoke the era’s concerns about censorship and conformity. Bradbury also wrote numerous screenplays and television adaptations of books, including his own works. He won many literary awards during his long career. Bradbury reportedly wrote daily throughout his life, allowing him to publish over 30 books and more than 600 short stories. He passed away at the age of 91, leaving behind his daughters and several grandchildren.
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Historical Context of A Sound of Thunder

“A Sound of Thunder” was written shortly after World War II and during the Cold War, a circumstance reflected in Bradbury’s concern about authoritarian rule. The United States, fresh from its conflict with Nazi Germany, now feared the expansion of the communist Soviet Union and the possibility of nuclear warfare. While it does not deal directly with nuclear politics, “A Sound of Thunder” does explore the ways in which new technology may exacerbate political dangers.

Other Books Related to A Sound of Thunder

Time travel is a popular subject for science fiction and fantasy works. One of the best-known stories on the topic is “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells, published in 1895, which deals with a trip to the future rather than the past. Arthur C. Clarke’s 1950 story “Time’s Arrow” also depicts a trip back to the time of the dinosaurs and explores the dangers of time-travel. Bradbury’s concern with authoritarian governments also appears in other works of his, such as Fahrenheit 451 (1953). Totalitarianism was a very common concern for authors following the First and Second World Wars, appearing in classic novels such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931) as well as George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Environmentalism, meanwhile, became a popular theme slightly later in the twentieth century, most notably with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), a nonfiction account of the negative effects of pesticides on the environment.
Key Facts about A Sound of Thunder
  • Full Title: A Sound of Thunder
  • When Written: 1952
  • Where Written: Los Angeles, California
  • When Published: June 28, 1952
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Science fiction
  • Setting: The U.S. in the year 2055, and North America or an equivalent landmass in 60 million BC
  • Climax: The Tyrannosaurus Rex charges the hunting party and is shot while Eckels retreats off the path
  • Antagonist: Mr. Travis
  • Point of View: Third person limited

Extra Credit for A Sound of Thunder

The Butterfly Effect. “A Sound of Thunder” introduced the idea that a single butterfly could change the world in huge and unanticipated ways, and is often credited as the origin of the phrase “the butterfly effect” in chaos theory. In fact, the butterfly effect is not derived from Bradbury’s work, but from a paper on weather systems by scientist Edward Lorenz, who considered whether the turbulence caused by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could later change the path of a tornado. However, Bradbury’s story is still a good illustration of the butterfly effect in action.

Failed adaptation. “A Sound of Thunder” has been adapted for TV and film multiple times, most notably in the 2005 feature length film starring Ben Kingsley. Despite the short story’s ongoing popularity, the film was poorly received; film critic Roger Ebert classed it with movies that “want so much to be terrific that they explode under the strain.”