When the “The Long Rain” opens, a group of military men are trampling through Venus’ wet jungles and enduring its never-ending downpour in search of an American-made structure called a Sun Dome, where they will be able to find food and shelter. For each of the men, the grueling search for the Sun Dome unearths several memories, some of which are pleasant and some of which are decidedly not. Memories help the men make sense of their distinctly alien situation, yet with such clarity often comes increased anguish at their circumstances. As they grapple with the past in the midst of their torturous present, the men learn that memories can at once be a significant source of resilience and also make one’s present all the more painful.
Through Simmons and the lieutenant, Bradbury illustrates the power of memory to comfort and strengthen. Simmons is no stranger to Sun Domes, as he implies several times that he’s spent a great deal of time on Venus. Thus, while the men are miserably trampling through the Venusian jungle, Simmons prods himself along with warm memories of the Sun Dome: “‘Brother, that puts muscle in me […] A big pot of coffee for me,’ panted Simmons, smiling. ‘And a pan of cinnamon buns, by God! And just lie there and let the old sun hit you.’”
At another point in the story, when the unnamed man in the group jumps up in terror and tries to outrun the monster, he is killed instantly. Facedown in the mud, all the lieutenant can hear is “the sound a fly makes when landing upon the grill wires of an exterminator.” The narrator continues, “The lieutenant remembered this from his childhood on a farm. And there was a smell of a man burned to a cinder.” Sandwiched between two gruesome details regarding his comrade’s tragic death, it seems that the lieutenant’s childhood memory is a way of grasping for comfort, or at least understanding, in the midst of incomprehensible horror; shortly after this moment, the men walk towards the body filled with the disbelief of those
“who have not accepted death until they have touched it.” Perhaps, for the lieutenant, thinking briefly of his childhood on a farm softens the blow of his friend being killed in front of him, yet it also creates a renewed sense of hopelessness of finding a Sun Dome.
Indeed, the power of memory in the story means that not only can recollections be comforting, but they can also make situations more painful. After finally locating a Sun Dome only to discover that it’s recently been destroyed by the Venusians, for example, Pickard shares a memory with his comrades that may help him contextualize what the men are going through, but ultimately only serves to intensify the pain he’s feeling. He explains that when he was in grade school, there was a bully who sat behind him and pinched him every five minutes, all day long, every single day. After many months of enduring the pinching, Pickard snapped: “I turned around and took a metal trisquare I used in mechanical drawing and I almost killed that bastard. I almost cut his lousy head off. I almost took his eye out before they dragged me out of the room, and I kept yelling, ‘Why don’t he leave me alone? Why don’t he leave me alone?’” Recounting this memory gets Pickard increasingly worked up. Likening the constant pinching to the constant raindrops, he 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!” Pickard’s festering anger at his childhood bully melds with his frustration and agony over the rain, which only makes his present circumstances all the more unbearable.
Similarly, Simmons recounts two memories of people going insane in the Venusian rain, which further emphasizes the gravity of the men’s current situation. First, he recounts a memory from years ago, when he found one of his friends wandering aimlessly in the rain. His friend had clearly gone mad, and wouldn’t stop repeating, “Don’t know enough, to come in, outta the rain. Don’t know enough, to come in, outta the rain. Don’t know enough.” Later, Simmons explains that General Mendt was found “sitting on a rock with his head back, breathing the rain. His lungs were full of water.” Both of these memories underscore that the men’s reaction to their predicament is understandable, yet also make the men’s present situation all the more distressing. Indeed, it soon becomes clear that Pickard is slipping into the same sort of madness and is attempting to drown himself by breathing in the rain. Besides explaining what’s happening to Pickard, Simmons’ memories also emphasize how dangerous it is for Simmons and the lieutenant to continue traversing through the rain, as they too could go insane at any given moment.
At the end of the story, when the lieutenant finally finds an operating Sun Dome, he is dried almost instantly the second he walks inside, and “the rain [becomes] only a memory to his tingling body.” This is nearly the last line of the story, and thus feels like Bradbury gesturing to the twofold power of memory that appears throughout “The Long Rain.” Perhaps, going forward, the lieutenant will use the memory of being trapped in the Venusian rain as a way to buoy himself in other difficult situations. Or, perhaps the memory of the rain will be haunting and traumatizing like that of the pinching bully, heightening painful experiences for the rest of his life.
The Power of Memory ThemeTracker
The Power of Memory Quotes in The Long Rain
“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!”