A group of children press against the window of their underground classroom on the planet Venus, watching as the rain outside begins to slow. It has been raining ceaselessly for years—on Venus, the sun comes out once every seven years, but only for an hour, and today is the day when scientists predict that the sun will appear. The world outside is awash with tidal waves and a perpetually growing and collapsing jungle. These children are the first to grow up on the planet, which was colonized by rockets from Earth the generation before. In their eagerness, the children are tumbled together like unruly weeds.
Bradbury quickly establishes the extreme setting he will use as a backdrop for the nonetheless relatable drama in the story. The overwhelming rain on Venus has created a harsh, inhospitable environment, suggesting a sense of displacement from the natural world on Earth. Meanwhile, the anticipated arrival of the sun has generated a slightly chaotic sense of excitement among the children. Their anticipation has an edge of anxiety to it, foreshadowing the conflict and disappointment of the day to come.
One child, Margot, stands apart. Like all the children, she is nine years old. This means that most of the children can’t remember when the sun last came out, even though they dream about what it was like and long to feel its warmth.
All children on Venus long intensely for the sun, but Margot is isolated by her vivid memories. Somewhat intentionally, it seems, she holds herself apart, demonstrating the extent to which she is fixated by these memories. This also highlights her privilege—she has memories that the other children lack and covet—and sets up the jealousy that will drive the other children’s bullying.
The day before, the schoolchildren had read about the sun and written short stories or poems about it. When Margot quietly read her poem comparing the sun to a flower aloud to the class, another boy, William, exclaimed that she didn’t actually write it. Their teacher reprimanded him.
The other students pick on Margot in ways that seem initially not to make much sense: in this scene, for example, Margot is simply participating in a class activity. But William’s actions are motivated not by Margot’s actions, but by the fact that Margot has special knowledge of the sun that allows her to write poems and share detailed memories. The children are jealous that Margot has had such experiences and use her as a scapegoat for their own feelings of deprivation about the sun. Claiming that Margot is lying when she speaks about the sun is one way for William to gain power over her, and, by extension, the imbalance in their situations.In this scene, we also see the power that the sun continues to hold for Margot. She romanticizes her memories of it and briefly comes out of her shell only when she is able to express her interest in the sun.
But back in the classroom, the children are unsupervised as they wait feverishly by the windows. They worry that their teacher won’t return in time, and that this will cause them to miss the sun. Margot continues to watch and listen to the rain by herself. She is very frail and pale, as if all of the color has been drained from her.
Here we see that anticipation for the sun has made the children anxious and chaotic. The extent to which they have built up this day has made it impossible for them to enjoy the moment without also fearing what will happen if it doesn’t meet expectations. We also see that life away from the sun seems to have had a physically draining effect on Margot. Deprivation from the sun has made her a shadow of her former self—almost physically less than human—while it has also made the other children seemingly less civil. The sun has power to make humans both physically and mentally stronger, while its lack has the opposite effect.
William asks Margot what she’s looking at. When she doesn’t respond, he shoves her, but she still doesn’t react and the other children edge away. Margot herself usually eschews the company of other children, refusing to play games or sing songs unless they are about the sun.
Again, William tries to engage Margot in conflict even though her behavior is inoffensive. This is another example of William venting his sense of jealousy and deprivation on Margot, showing that these feelings can be strong motivators of bullying. But we also see that Margot herself may have exacerbated her isolation: she makes no secret of the fact that she looks down on life on Venus, emphasizing the privileged life she led on Earth.Another perspective on Margot’s isolation here is that she continues to be obsessed by memories of the past, to the extent that she cannot enjoy the present. This shows that strong nostalgia, like the nostalgia that Margot experiences for the sun, can prevent those who experience it from finding happiness in the present.
Margot arrived on Venus from Earth five years ago, so, unlike the other children, she remembers the sun and the sky very well from her childhood. Sometimes she describes the sun, but William and the other children claim she is lying. For the most part, she keeps to herself and avoids the touch of water. Her parents may move the family back to Earth, since Margot is suffering so much. All of these things make William and the other children jealous and angry.
When the other children attempt to discredit Margot’s memories, it is because they are jealous of her experiences and frustrated by circumstances over which they have no control. We also learn that Margot is privileged not just because she remembers the sun, but also because her parents are wealthy enough that they may be able to move the family back to Earth, providing more fodder for the children’s jealousy. And again, Margot closes herself off from others because her memories are so important to her that she would rather focus on them.
In the classroom, William pushes Margot again. Then, he tells her the sun won’t actually come out—it was all a joke. The other children join in, laughing and saying the sun won’t come out. Margot protests weakly.
At William’s urging, all the children surge around Margot and push her into a closet in the hallway as she pleads and cries. As Margot throws herself against the locked door, the children smile at each other and return to their classroom just as their teacher reappears.
Perhaps because of the intensity of the setting, the scene of teasing quickly escalates to violent bullying. In a mob, the children exact their revenge on Margot’s perceived privilege, depriving her of the very thing of which they feel deprived—time in the sun. The specific nature of this bullying shows just how much the children are motivated by their sense of jealousy and longing.
Glancing at her watch, the teacher makes sure everyone is ready and accounted for. She does not notice that Margot isn’t there. The children crowd around the classroom door as the rain slows and then finally stops. Outside, it is shockingly quiet and still. The children wonder at this as the door slides open.
As the big moment arrives, the children feel overwhelmed that all their waiting and anticipation has culminated in a moment that seems to surpass their expectations. The sudden stillness and quiet emphasizes how violent and intolerable Venus’ usual weather is. The experience of nature brings a sudden sense of peace.
Finally, the sun comes out, turning the sky bright blue and sending the children bursting out into the sunlight. Their teacher warns them not to go too far, since they only have two hours, but the children are already peeling off their jackets to feel the sun. They remark that it is far better than sunlamps.
The sunlight has revealed the massive jungle outside to be full of tumultuous, fleshy grey weeds, overgrown and bleached by the rain. In this strange environment, the children run and play among the trees, shouting and laughing. They stare up at the sun and the world around, attempting to savor everything.
Suddenly, a girl wails, bringing the festivities to a halt. She holds out her palm to reveal a single raindrop. She begins to cry as the children stare up at the sky and the first cold drops fall on their faces. The sun fades and the wind begins to rise as the children turn and begin to trudge back to the underground classroom, smiles vanished.
Suddenly, the rain returns in force and the sky darkens with thunder. The children run back to the classroom, where they peer out at the deafening rain that seems as if it will continue falling everywhere and forever. They ask if it will really be seven more years before they see the sun again.
Now that they have such a bright memory to compare it to, the normal day-to-day conditions of life on Venus seem unbearable. A moment of intense happiness can make everyday life seem comparatively painful, especially when the moment has been anticipated for so long. The return to waiting brings with it renewed awareness of how painful drawn-out anticipation can be. Already, the children seem transfixed by their brief memory of the sun, just as Margot is. It seems likely that they, too, will succumb to the kind of nostalgia that hindered Margot.
Suddenly, one of the children remembers Margot. The children realize she is still locked in the closet, and they stand frozen in place, unable to meet each other’s eyes. After a few moments, they begin to walk slowly down the hall as the rain and lightning rage outside.
Perhaps because they now share this emotional understanding of Margot’s painful nostalgia, the children suddenly remember her. Experiencing the sun has not only made them feel happy and healthy but given them the experience and maturity to realize the magnitude of their actions and to feel guilt. This is another way that the importance of nature is emphasized. Now that they can relate to Margot, the motivations for their bullying have been taken away.
The children stand for a moment before the closet, which is now silent. Slowly, they unlock the door and let Margot out.
Bradbury does not show us the aftermath of this episode, but it is clear that the day has ended in difficult feelings all around. The children, like Margot, are now armed with a powerful memory of happiness which will likely make it far more difficult for them to enjoy everyday life and endure the long wait for another such day. Meanwhile, Margot has experienced the shattering disappointment of expectations for a day that had become all-important in her mind, demonstrating the danger of relying on such fleeting moments. A day that should have brought joy to all has instead brought a powerful sense of loss.