“The Veldt” portrays a futuristic society in which things, especially consumer goods, have gained a life of their own. In the name of convenience and contentment, technology fulfills people’s every need, reducing humans to passive beings who only eat, breathe, and sleep. Bradbury, who wrote this story in 1950, was responding to the post-World War II consumer culture that was rapidly developing as the U.S. economy boomed. It’s remarkable how closely his extrapolation of American culture at that time resembles our world today. In 2015, motion-sensing lights and doors exist in every developing city. More sophisticated technologies have replaced human labor in the job market. In other words, “The Veldt” satirizes a consumerist culture that has since grown to fulfill much of its author’s prophecy.
In the story, the Hadleys are coddled by the technology in their HappyLife Home, so much so that they begin to feel dependent on it. One might argue that this dependence becomes a kind of addiction. Through the Happylife Home, the Hadleys have all of their needs and desires at their fingertips. But they (and especially their children) can no longer imagine life without a mechanical mediator enhancing every experience. Lydia, the mother, is the first to view the Happylife Home as a threat. She begins to feel “unnecessary,” and wants to experience the sensation of performing normal human tasks once again, so she suggests that they take a “vacation” and shut off the Home for some time. The mechanization of life makes the Hadley parents not only feel useless, but also inhuman. Without their daily routines to perform, they find that the Happylife Home has taken away the purpose and, therefore, the joy of their lives. George refers to the family as having “mechanical, electronic navels,” and implies that they are not truly living when under the influence of the Happylife Home.
The assumption that convenience leads to happiness is one of the story’s major critiques of the consumerist, technological society that it depicts. The Happylife Home, which does everything for the Hadleys, including cutting their food, is designed with the belief that making life easier—so easy that its residents don’t have to lift a finger—will make those residents happier individuals. This assumption posits technology as the answer to many of our “first-world” concerns. But in “The Veldt,” we see the Happylife Home have the opposite effect on the Hadley family. Instead of feeling happier and more fulfilled, the parents experience their lives drained of meaning as they essentially cease to be necessary as parents. The children, for their part, don’t even understand that their lives have lost so much meaning. They are so dependent on the Happylife Home that their own parents—that relationships to other people in general—are rendered valueless to them.
Consumer Culture and Technology ThemeTracker
Consumer Culture and Technology Quotes in The Veldt
They walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife Home, which had cost them thirty thousand dollars installed, this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.
The lions were coming. And again George Hadley was filled with admiration for the mechanical genius who had conceived this room. A miracle of efficiency selling for an absurdly low price. Every home should have one. Oh, occasionally they frightened you with their clinical accuracy, they startled you, gave you a twinge, but most of the time what fun for everyone, not only your own son and daughter, but for yourself when you felt like a quick jaunt to a foreign land, a quick change of scenery.
“Walls, Lydia, remember; crystal walls, that’s all they are. Oh, they look real, I must admit—Africa in your parlor—but it’s all dimensional, superreactionary, supersensitive color film and mental tape film behind glass screens. It’s all odorophonics and sonics, Lydia. Here’s my handkerchief.”
“I’m afraid.” She came to him and put her body against him and cried steadily. “Did you see? Did you feel? It’s too real.”
“Maybe I don’t have enough to do. Maybe I have time to think too much. Why don’t we shut the whole house off for a few days and take a vacation?”
“You mean you want to fry my eggs for me?”
“Yes.” She nodded….
“But I thought that’s why we bought the house, so we wouldn’t have to do anything.”
“That’s just it. I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub bath can? I cannot.”
He chewed tastelessly on the meat that the table had cut for him. Death thoughts. They were awfully young, Wendy and Peter, for death thoughts. Or, no, you were never too young, really. Long before you knew what death was you were wishing it on someone else.
A moment later they heard screams.
Two screams. Two people screaming from downstairs. And then a roar of lions….
“Those screams—they sound familiar.”
And although their beds tried very hard, the two adults couldn’t be rocked to sleep for another hour. A smell of cats was in the night air.
“Matter of fact, we’re thinking of turning the whole house off for about a month. Live sort of a carefree one-for-all existence.”
“That sounds dreadful! Would I have to tie my own shoes instead of letting the shoe tier do it? And brush my own teeth and comb my hair and give myself a bath?”
“It would be fun for a change, don’t you think?”
“No, it would be horrid….”
“I don’t want to do anything but look and listen and smell; what else is there to do?”
“You’ve let this room and this house replace you and your wife in your children’s affections. This room is their mother and father, far more important than their real parents. And now you come along and want to shut it off. No wonder there’s hatred there. You can feel it coming out of the sky. Feel that sun. George, you’ll have to change your life. Like too many others, you’ve built it around creature comforts. Why, you’d starve tomorrow if something went wrong in your kitchen. You wouldn’t know how to tap an egg. Nevertheless, turn everything off. Start new.”
“Lydia, it’s off, and it stays off. And the whole damn house dies as of here and now. The more I see of the mess we’ve put ourselves in, the more it sickens me. We’ve been contemplating our mechanical, electronic navels for too long. My God, how we need a breath of honest air!”
The house was full of dead bodies, it seemed. It felt like a mechanical cemetery. So silent. None of the humming energy of machines waiting to function at the tap of a button.
“I wish you were dead!”
“We were, for a long while. Now we’re going to really start living. Instead of being handled and massaged, we’re going to live.”