Report on the Threatened City


Doris Lessing

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Themes and Colors
Perception and Belief Theme Icon
Indifference Theme Icon
Paranoia and Conspiracy Theme Icon
Altruism vs. Capitalism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Report on the Threatened City, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Perception and Belief

In “Report on the Threatened City,” envoys from an alien species land in San Francisco to warn the city’s inhabitants about an impending earthquake that will destroy the city. But the aliens learn that despite already knowing about the potential danger—San Francisco even has an institute that studies and predicts earthquakes—the city’s residents don’t seem to care about it. Thus, the envoys come to understand that for humans, perceiving doesn’t necessarily equal believing. For example…

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In “Report on the Threatened City,” a group of alien envoys attempt to warn the citizens of San Francisco of an impending earthquake. Because the city’s residents aren’t evacuating, the extraterrestrials believe that they must not know about the looming danger. But as they spend a week in futile efforts to warn the population, they come to understand that almost everyone is aware of the danger, yet they refuse to act accordingly. As such…

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Paranoia and Conspiracy

When the alien envoys in “Report on the Threatened City” come to San Francisco to warn of an impending earthquake, they find a world in the grip of Cold War-era paranoia and conspiracies. Almost everyone who sees their spacecraft identifies it as a weapon or spy craft of some sort, and the range of origin theories suggests the power of the “war-making functions” that control Earth: some think the craft is Russian, others Chinese…

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Altruism vs. Capitalism

“Report on the Threatened City” portrays capitalism as a system that encourages profit and self-interest over the common good. In the story, alien envoys visit Earth to warn San Francisco residents of an impending earthquake, and their mission requires them to push their planet’s technology to its limit and “postpone[] certain cherished plans.” They seem to consider these sacrifices worthwhile when balanced against the mass death and devastation that they believe the earthquake will…

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