Set in a post-apocalyptic landscape, this story presents death as pervasive. The reader encounters the death of the McClellan family, their dog, their city, and the house. Related to this relentless dying, Bradbury emphasizes the omnipresence of time, structuring the story around the house’s automated announcement of each hour of the day. The ever-ticking clock announcing every hour suggests the McClellan family’s tendency towards efficiency and control down to the minute. When coupled with the unpredictability and finality of death, however, this obsession with controlling time appears both misguided and futile.
Bradbury depicts multiple instances of death to underscore that there is no way to control or subdue it. Death can come in “one titanic instant,” as it does for the McClellan family. The father, mother, and two children were all engaged in regular occupations when an atomic bomb exploded. Their bodies incinerated, and all that remains are their white silhouettes on the side of the house. Nothing in the story suggests that the family knew that this moment would be its last. In particular, the ball pictured midair “which never came down” emphasizes how instantaneous this death was—faster than gravity.
Death is also indifferent. When the family dog approaches the house, Bradbury quickly establishes it as a sympathetic figure by saying it is “whining, shivering” and that it “ran upstairs, hysterically yelping” in search of its owners. Its lonely end, then, leaves the reader with a sense of loss, and underscores the unfeeling, indiscriminate nature of death. And above all, death is final. In only a few moments, it can undo work that took centuries to create. When the house catches on fire, for example, the flames start “baking off the oily flesh” of “Picassos and Matisses,” destroying artwork by two of the most influential painters of the 19th and 20th centuries. Death not only destroys life, then, but even the legacy human beings would attempt to leave behind.
Closely linked to the inevitability and unpredictability of death is the unstoppable march of time. The existence of death means that everyone’s time is limited and fundamentally beyond their control. Nevertheless, this society seeks to measure and optimize time whenever possible. This is reflected in the structure of the story, which is firmly rooted in the passing of hours. It opens with the date, followed by an alarm clock announcing that it is 7:00 a.m. Every few paragraphs, a robotic voice again announces the time. The clock further highlights the extent to which the McClellans attempted, before their deaths, to control every aspect of their day. In each hour, the house has something new planned for the family. First, they eat breakfast, then they go to work, then the house cleans up after them, and so forth. So meticulous is the house about time-keeping that if it is in any way interrupted, it becomes irritated. For example, when the dog enters, it is followed by “angry mice, angry at having to pick up mud, angry at inconvenience.” The dog requires additional time and attention, disturbing the house’s planned schedule for the day. Of course, this schedule is already absurd, given the death of the house’s inhabitants. This suggests the naïve futility of attempting to meticulously control every moment of one’s day—and, it follows, of one’s life. There will always be disruptions, the most devastating and final being death itself.
Bradbury holds no sympathy for this desire to control time because he recognizes that it is futile—death and time progress regardless of any and all efforts to the contrary. By naming the story after There Will Come Soft Rains, a poem by Sara Teasdale that is also read out during the short story, Bradbury makes his point of view clear. Teasdale offers a placid image of the world, complete with lovely scenes from nature, that is the result of humans destroying one another in a great war. This beautiful yet grim image of the future reveals that death will have its way with humans and that time will continue to march on without them.
Death, Control, and Time ThemeTracker
Death, Control, and Time Quotes in There Will Come Soft Rains
In the living room the voice-clock sang, Tick-tock, seven o’clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o’clock! as if it were afraid that nobody would. The morning house lay empty. The clock ticked on, repeating and repeating its sounds into the emptiness. Seven-nine, breakfast time, seven-nine!
The five spots of paint—the man, the woman, the children, the ball—remained. The rest was a thin charcoaled layer.
The front door recognized the dog voice and opened. The dog, once huge and fleshy, but now gone to bone and covered with sores, moved in and through the house, tracking mud. Behind it whirred angry mice, angry at having to pick up mud, angry at inconvenience.
But the fire was clever. It had sent flames outside the house, up through the attic to the pumps there. An explosion! The attic brain which directed the pumps was shattered into bronze shrapnel on the beams.
In the last instant under the fire avalanche, other choruses, oblivious, could be heard announcing the time, playing music, cutting the lawn by remote-control mower, or setting an umbrella frantically out and in the slamming and opening front door, a thousand things happening, like a clock shop when each clock strikes the hour insanely before or after the other, a scene of maniac confusion, yet unity; singing, screaming, a few last cleaning mice darting bravely out to carry the horrid ashes away! And one voice, with sublime disregard for the situation, read poetry aloud in the fiery study, until all the film spools burned, until all the wires withered and the circuits cracked.
Dawn showed faintly in the east. Among the ruins, one wall stood alone. Within the wall, a last voice said, over and over again and again, even as the sun rose to shine upon the heaped rubble and steam: “Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is…”