Bradbury portrays Eckels as deeply concerned with mortality. His hobby of trophy hunting gets its thrill from feeling a certain power over life and death, and his choice to take a time travel safari derives partly from advertisements portraying triumph over aging and death. When confronted with genuine mortality, however, in the form of the dinosaur, Eckels decides to flee; later, this attempt survive ultimately brings about his own death, when a guide shoots him. Even time travel, Bradbury shows, can only offer brief respite from the deathly “sound of thunder.” Bradbury thus uses a technology that can seemingly reverse the order of life and death in order to show that death is, in fact, inevitable.
Time Safari, Inc. markets itself as not simply offering the thrill of hunting prehistoric game but of transcending mortality by reversing its cycle. Eckles, looking into the furnace of the time machine, recalls advertisements about rising “out of chars and ashes” and returning via birth or seed to “the time before the beginning.” Such claims turn the ordinary cycle of life and death on its head; not only can customers visit another point in time, the company suggests, but they can in some sense reverse the flow of time itself. The company’s advertising inherently illustrates the hubris necessary to treat time—and the attendant processes of life and death—as one’s personal playground.
Indeed, despite choosing to undertake the massively dangerous safari to hunt a dinosaur, Eckels repeatedly seeks assurance that he will survive the trip. He clearly wants to experience having power over life and death without the risk, and becomes angry when the company agent insists that there are no guarantees of his safety. He asks again for reassurance when the guide Lesperance reveals that he’s already gone back in time to tag their dinosaur, and again appears deeply unsatisfied with the guide’s response that “there’s no way of telling” whether he will make it out alive. Eckels’s desire for reassurance asks for the impossible: the thrill of a dangerous situation without any actual danger. When the dinosaur finally appears in the story as a sort of death-machine, accompanied by a “sound of thunder,” Eckels suddenly realizes just how dangerous a situation he is in, observing, “It was never like this before. I was always sure I’d come through alive.”
Eckels seems particularly aware of his body and of the threats that surround him, and Bradbury’s descriptions of Eckels seem to mark him for death from the beginning of the story. This foreshadowing supports the broader point that death, for Bradbury, is inevitable, regardless of technological innovations. Multiple points in the story focus on Eckels’ physicality—his eyelids, the feeling of phlegm in his throat, his stiff jaw and trembling arms. He often seems aware of but almost separated from his body, as when he “felt his mouth saying” a phrase rather than simply speaking. He remains stiff and pale during the safari, in contrast to his livelier companions. And when retreating from the hunt, Eckels walks away in a zombie-like stupor, as if he were already dead.
In addition, Eckels is surrounded by signs of imminent death. The narrative gaze, following his eyes, fixates on the deadly weapons—“blue metal guns”—of the safari party in the time machine. During the safari, the scenery includes “flowers the color of blood” and the “death grin” of the dinosaur. Through his recognition of these signs—and particularly the terror of seeing the dinosaur—Eckles wanders off the path, crushing a butterfly and ensuring that he will be met with another deadly “sound of thunder” in the form of a gunshot by the story’s end; as he begs to go back in time once again to stop himself from stepping off the path, Mr. Travis, another guide, shoots him (likely to stop his blabbing but getting the group in trouble).
“A Sound of Thunder” thus explores mortality as at once a thrilling source of power, an advertising ploy, and an inevitability. Even as Eckels finds himself drawn in by the danger and excitement of reversing time in order to hunt a deadly predator, his attempts to survive only lead to his own demise. Even the boldest technological advancements are subject to the laws of nature, and as such it is folly, the story suggests, to attempt to defeat mortality.
Mortality Quotes in A Sound of Thunder
Out of chars and ashes, out of dust and coals, like golden salamanders, the old years, the green years, might leap; roses sweeten the air, white hair turn Irish-black, wrinkles vanish all, everything fly back to seed, flee death, rush down to their beginnings, suns rise in western skies and set in glorious easts, moons eat themselves opposite to the custom, all and everything cupping one in another like Chinese boxes, rabbits into hats, all and everything returning to the fresh death, the seed death, the green death, to the time before the beginning.
The jungle was wide and full of twitterings, rustlings, murmurs, and sighs.
Suddenly it all ceased, as if someone had shut a door.
A sound of thunder.
Out of the mist, one hundred yards away, came Tyrannosaurus rex.
“It can’t be killed.” Eckels pronounced this verdict quietly, as if there could be no argument. He had weighed the evidence and this was his considered opinion. The rifle in his hands seemed a cap gun. “We were fools to come. This is impossible.” […] Eckels, not looking back, walked blindly to the edge of the Path, his gun limp in his arms, stepped off the Path, and walked, not knowing it, in the jungle.
Eckels felt himself fall into a chair. He fumbled crazily at the thick slime on his boots. He held up a clod of dirt, trembling. “No, it can’t be. Not a little thing like that. No!”
Embedded in the mud, glistening green and gold and black, was a butterfly, very beautiful and very dead.
“Not a little thing like that! Not a butterfly!” cried Eckels.
… “can’t we take it back, can’t we make it alive again? Can’t we start over? Can’t we—”
He did not move. Eyes shut, he waited, shivering. He heard Travis breathe loud in the room; he heard Travis shift his rifle, click the safety catch, and raise the weapon.
There was a sound of thunder.