While “A Sound of Thunder” takes place in the 2050s, it is in many ways just as much about the concerns of the 1950s. Writing in the aftermath of World War II and at the outset of the Cold War, Bradbury embeds the fear of anti-American authoritarianism in his text. He paints a portrait of futuristic America as an imperialist nation that has found a new direction for its colonial energies (that is, the past), yet is threatened from within by the specter of fascism (represented by the political candidate Deutscher). Bradbury does not stop there, however: by portraying time travel as a literal manifestation of nostalgia for a simpler past, his narrative suggests that such nostalgia may in fact bring about an authoritarian threat from within.
While the characters in “A Sound of Thunder” see the past as new territory ripe for exploitation, the present is filled with anxiety about the political direction of the country. The entire narrative is framed by the previous day’s presidential election, which is a clear choice between true-blue American democracy and German-influenced dictatorship. Mr. Eckels fears the possibility that the United States might be compromised—even colonized—by these “foreign” values.
During the story’s opening scene, Mr. Eckels expresses his relief that presidential candidate Keith was elected, joking that he “might be here now running away from the results” if that were not the case. The company agent for Time Safari, Inc. describes the other candidate, Deutscher, as “an anti-everything man.” It is important to note that Deutscher is a stereotypically German name; given the fact that this story was published during the 1950s, shortly following World War II, pairing a German name with fear of “the worst kind of dictatorship” was likely intended by Bradbury to invoke the recent fear of Nazi Germany taking over much of the Western world. It also resonates with Cold War era fears of communist East Germany and the Soviet Union. The contrast with the ordinary, stereotypically American-sounding name “Keith” makes this clash of cultures particularly clear. Mr. Eckel’s remark about “running away” via time travel, in turn, casts the past as a potential way out of the political fears of the present. If fascism or communism is knocking at the door, Eckels sees a return to a purportedly simpler world as the secret passage out.
The characters in Bradbury’s story are also specifically concerned with changing the trajectory of history in a way that might impact Western society, and especially the United States. For example, when trying to drive home the point that the safari has reached the prehistoric past, Mr. Travis lists off a number of historical figures significant to Christian and European history who have not been born yet, such as Christ, Caesar, Napoleon, and Hitler. He does not name any important figures from other parts of the world and he refers to the date in years “before President Keith,” reinforcing his Western (and ultimately America-centric) view of human progress. Yet it is precisely this future—including the implicit victory of democracy over fascism—that is imperiled when Eckels steps off the path. Upon returning to the future, the safari group finds themselves in the midst of the very event that Eckels had joked about escaping: the election of “anti-everything man” Deutscher.
When Eckels’s blunder during the trip brings about a change in election results, Bradbury demonstrates not only the danger of meddling with history, but also an implicit relationship between nostalgia and authoritarianism. “A Sound of Thunder” shows that American democracy will not be saved from fascism or communism by a return to some earlier state. In fact, it is the excessive nostalgia imbued in time travel to the past that brings about this awakening of authoritarianism from within the United States.
Authoritarianism, Fascism, and Nostalgia ThemeTracker
Authoritarianism, Fascism, and Nostalgia Quotes in A Sound of Thunder
“Makes you think. If the election had gone badly yesterday, I might be here now running away from the results. Thank God Keith won. He’ll make a fine President of the United States.”
“Yes,” said the man behind the desk. “We’re lucky. If Deutscher had gotten in, we’d have the worst kind of dictatorship. There’s an anti-everything man for you, a militarist, anti-Christ, anti-human, anti-intellectual…”
“Who won the presidential election yesterday?”
The man behind the desk laughed. “You joking? You know very well. Deutscher, of course! Who else? Not that fool weakling Keith. We got an iron man now, a man with guts!”