In Ray Bradbury’s “The Long Rain,” a group of American military men find themselves stranded on Venus after their rocket crashes. Four men are forced to traverse through the wild Venusian jungles and thick sheets of rain in search of a Sun Dome—one of 126 luxurious American-built shelters that are peppered among Venus’ vast, single continent. As the men struggle to survive in the soaking-wet wilderness for an entire month, the story highlights how mankind is ultimately helpless in the face of nature’s sheer power. Over the course of the story, the group of four tragically dissolves into just one lone survivor, the lieutenant, illustrating nature’s ability to destroy humans mentally, emotionally, and physically.
The men’s struggle to survive in this wild, water-logged world shows how humans are ultimately at the mercy of nature. The opening of the story, for instance, depicts how the never-ending rain “shrank men’s hands into the hands of wrinkled apes.” The word “shrank,” coupled with the invocation of apes, gives the passage Darwinian undertones, as if the rain is so powerful that it makes the humans regress into their primal ancestors. Bradbury also compares Venus’ never-ending rain to the biblical story of the flood. One of the men laments, “How many nights have we slept? Thirty nights, thirty days! Who can sleep with rain slamming their head, banging away.” Unlike Noah, however, the four men are currently in a small inflatable life raft, and there’s no indication of any sort of God who is on their side, urging them to build an ark. By comparing the rain to a flood sent by God (which, according to Genesis, lasted forty nights and forty days, a strikingly similar duration to the men’s time on Venus), Bradbury imbues nature with otherworldly power and omnipotence, emphasizing how small and helpless the humans are.
The men consider themselves victims of Chinese water torture, further underscoring nature as a powerful authority figure. One of the men states, “Chinese water cure. Remember the old torture? Rope you against a wall. Drop one drop of water on your head every half hour. You go crazy waiting for the next one. Well, that’s Venus, but on a big scale.” By comparing themselves to prisoners roped against a wall and subjected to physical torture, the men highlight their helplessness in the face of nature’s dominance.
Part of nature’s overwhelming power stems from its ability to destroy humans on several different levels—mentally, emotionally, and physically. The rain’s power is visually apparent, as it wipes the men clean of all signs of vitality: the lieutenant “had a face that once had been brown and now the rain had washed it pale, and the rain had washed the color from his eyes and they were white, as were his teeth, and as was his hair. He was all white. Even his uniform was beginning to turn white.” It seems impossible that even the heaviest of rains could strip the color from a person’s hair and eyes, but on Venus, this is case. Later, when an unnamed man in the group dies after a massive electrical monster pelts him with lightning bolts, his comrades examine his destroyed body: “The body was twisted steel, wrapped in burned leather. It looked like a wax dummy that had been thrown into an incinerator and pulled out after the wax had sunk to the charcoal skeleton.” In gruesome detail, Bradbury shows the extent to which nature can physically destroy human beings.
In addition, the comparison between the rain and Chinese water torture also shows how nature can destroy a person mentally. Likewise, as Pickard later slips into insanity, he cries, “If only the rain wouldn’t hit my head, just for a few minutes. If I could only remember what it’s like not to be bothered.” He likens the rhythmic, pounding rain to the way that his childhood bully pinched him every five minutes during school, noting that one day, Pickard snapped and almost killed the bully in retaliation. In the present, he wildly exclaims, “But what do I do now? Who do I hit, who do I tell to lay off, stop bothering me, this damn rain, like the pinching, always on you, that’s all you hear, that’s all you feel!” Clearly, the rain is doing more than physically bothering Pickard—he’s being tortured mentally, too. Throughout the story, Bradbury contrasts nature’s overwhelming power with humankind’s helplessness, ultimately encouraging readers to view nature with humility, awe, and respect.
Man vs. Nature ThemeTracker
Man vs. Nature Quotes in The Long Rain
The two men sat together in the rain. Behind them sat two other men who were wet and tired and slumped like clay that was melting.
“Who could [sleep]? Who has? When? How many nights have we slept? Thirty nights, thirty days! Who can sleep with rain slamming their head, banging away… I’d give just anything for a hat. Anything at all, just so it wouldn’t hit my head any more.”
“Chinese water cure. Remember the old torture? Rope you against a wall. Drop one drop of water on your head every half hour. You go crazy waiting for the next one. Well, that’s Venus, but on a big scale. We’re not made for water. You can’t sleep, you can’t breathe right, and you’re crazy from just being soggy.”
They walked over to the body, thinking that perhaps they could still save the man’s life. They couldn’t believe that there wasn’t some way to help the man. It was the natural act of men who have not accepted death until they have touched it and turned it over and made plans to bury it or leave it there for the jungle to bury in an hour of quick growth.
The Sun Dome was empty and dark. There was no synthetic yellow sun floating in a high gaseous whisper at the center of the blue ceiling. There was no food waiting. It was cold as a vault. And through a thousand holes which had been newly punctured in the ceiling water streamed, the rain fell down, soaking into the thick rugs and the heavy modern furniture and splashing on the glass tables. The jungle was growing up like a moss in the room, on top of the bookcases and the divans. The rain slashed through the holes and fell upon the three men’s faces.
“I remember when I was in school a bully used to sit in back of me and pinch me and pinch me and pinch me every five minutes, all day long. He did that for weeks and months. My arms were sore and black and blue all the time. And I thought I’d go crazy from being pinched. One day I must have gone a little mad from being hurt and hurt, and I turned around and took a metal trisquare I used in mechanical drawing and I almost killed that bastard. […] I kept yelling, ‘Why don’t he leave me alone? Why don’t he leave me alone?’ […] But what do I do now? Who do I hit, who do I tell to lay off, stop bothering me, this damn rain, like the pinching, always on you, that’s all you hear, that’s all you feel!”
“Stop it, stop it!” Pickard screamed. He fired off his gun six times at the night sky. In the flashes of powdery illumination they could see armies of raindrops, suspended as in a vast motionless amber, for an instant, hesitating as if shocked by the explosion, fifteen billion droplets, fifteen billion tears, fifteen billion ornaments, jewels standing out against a white velvet viewing board. And then, with the light gone, the drops which had waited to have their pictures taken, which had suspended their downward rush, fell upon them, stinging, in an insect cloud of coldness and pain.
He slipped and fell. Lie here, he thought; it’s the wrong one. Lie here. It’s no use. Drink all you want.
But he managed to climb to his feet again and crossed several creeks, and the yellow light grew very bright, and he began to run again, his feet crashing into mirrors and glass, his arms flailing at diamonds and precious stones.