“There Will Come Soft Rains” narrates a day in the life of a home whose automated artificially-intelligent functions, such as making meals and cleaning, continue to operate after its human residents (the McClellan family) have perished in a nuclear explosion. As such, the story centers lifelike technology—both anthropomorphized and animalistic—and relegates actual living beings to the fringes of the tale. In doing so, Bradbury creates an eerie confusion between life and technology, showing the extent to which technology has blended with and taken on the characteristics of humans and animals.
Bradbury imbues the house with distinctly human and animalistic characteristics. Many of the house’s automated functions have the form of robotic animals. For example, “robot mice” and “copper scrap rats” clean the house, “twenty snakes” fight the house fire with a “clear cold venom of green froth,” and the nursery is full of artificial animals (such as “iron crickets” and “butterflies of delicate red tissue”) for the amusement of the children. The house also has humanlike form in that it has many “voices”—including a voice that tells the weather, a voice that give reminders of the time, and even a voice that reads poetry aloud. Its attic (which seems to be a control center for the artificially-intelligent machinery) is also described as a “brain.” When the house fire begins to reach the attic, the house activates many mechanisms to protect its most vital “organ,” much like the human body protects the brain.
The house is most obviously humanlike, though, in its performance of daily tasks such as cooking meals, cleaning, and even reminding the (now absent) residents of birthdays, anniversaries, and bills that must be paid. The house therefore attempts to maintain human life (by feeding people, for example), and it also provides an essential social function (sparing people the rudeness of missing a birthday, say). This shows that the house is integrated into human life at all levels, from the most basic (survival) to the most rarefied (reading poetry to the human residents). The blend of anthropomorphic and animalistic elements suggests that the house exists in a space between life and machine; it performs essential human functions (indeed, human life is reliant on it) and the technology itself takes humanlike and animalistic forms, although Bradbury is still careful to describe it as mechanical.
The house’s technology maintains its humanlike functions after the people it is intended to serve are gone, which shows that the technology itself is imprinted with human life but also inhumane. The story takes place after the human family has died, but the house carries on as if its residents are still living; it continues to cook, voice reminders about the day, lay out martinis for the parents, provide entertainment for the children, and so on. Bradbury does not portray this, however, as a series of automated functions that are oblivious to their own futility. Instead, Bradbury shows the house as being almost sentient. When the radiation-poisoned family dog returns home, for example, Bradbury writes that, “the dog ran upstairs, hysterically yelping to each door, at last realizing, as the house realized, that only silence was here.” From the phrase “as the house realized,” readers are left to infer that the house knows that its human inhabitants are gone, yet it continues to operate as though people were home—not out of obliviousness, but rather out of a sense of purpose beyond serving humans. In other words, while the human inhabitants must have assumed that the house existed for them and because of them, the house shows that it operates with utter indifference to human life for a purpose that remains mysterious.
Ironically, it’s the humanlike sentience that Bradbury gives the house that enables readers to perceive its inhumanity. The house carrying on its functions is eerie if it isn’t sentient, but callous and even sinister if it is. Giving the house the human trait of sentience, then, allows technology to be judged for its behavior. The house’s inhumanity is perhaps most clear in its treatment of the family dog, which is clearly suffering from radiation poisoning and panicked to find itself in a world utterly hostile and changed. While the house has the capability to care for humans by drawing baths and cooking food, it makes no attempt to aid the dog. In fact, the mice that clean up the dirt that the dog tracks in are “angry at having to pick up mud, angry at inconvenience.” Furthermore, when the dog dies, the robot mice instantly whisk its body into the furnace without any hint of disturbance. Although American pets are commonly considered to be part of the family, the house expresses only anger at the “inconvenience” of the dog’s existence, and when the dog dies, the house expresses nothing at all. Readers, of course, are left to wonder how the house “felt” about its human inhabitants—perhaps the house was also angry at the inconvenience of their messy lives and felt nothing when they died.
Bradbury’s sinister conflation of technology with human and animal life—particularly through his ascription of sentience to the house—demonstrates the extent to which Bradbury sees humans and machines as having merged in some fundamental way. The human family who lived in the house depended on its technology to survive, and the human imprint on the technology carries on after they are gone (in that the technology continues to carry out human functions). Importantly, his vision is not a utopian one in which technology helps humans to live the best possible life. While the house at first seems to enable an idyllic ease and leisure, the house’s cruel indifference to the fate of the humans and animals that it resembles suggests that technology blending with life is sinister. This becomes an even more dystopian vision in light of the fact that humanity itself has been annihilated by cutting-edge technology: the atomic bomb.
Life vs. Technology ThemeTracker
Life vs. Technology 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.
The dog ran upstairs, hysterically yelping to each door, at last realizing, as the house realized, that only silence was here.
There was the sound like a great matted yellow hive of bees within a dark bellows, the lazy bumble of a purring lion. And there was the patter of okapi feet and the murmur of a fresh jungle rain, like other hoofs, falling upon the summer-starched grass.
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
At ten o’clock the house began to die. The wind blew. A falling tree bough crashed through the kitchen window. Cleaning solvent, bottled, shattered over the stove. The room was ablaze in an instant!
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.
The house shuddered, oak bone on bone, its bared skeleton cringing from the heat, its wire, its nerves revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins and capillaries quiver in the scalded air.
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…”