Zero Hour

Zero Hour Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ray Bradbury's Zero Hour. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury was a voracious reader and a prolific writer. Bradbury was born in small-town Illinois but moved to Los Angeles in 1934. He penned short stories throughout high school, and his stories only appeared in niche fantasy magazines for several years. In 1946, one of his short stories was published in the prestigious annual publication The Best American Short Stories, which propelled Bradbury into the spotlight. A publisher named Walter Bradbury (no relation to Ray) was the first to suggest that Bradbury string together his existing short stories to form novels. Bradbury did just that with all eleven of his novels, including Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man. In The Illustrated Man, all eighteen short stories retain their individual identities. However, novels like Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Dandelion Wine (1957), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) read more like standard novels than short story collections. Throughout his lifetime, Bradbury penned and published hundreds of short stories and earned several honors, including a National Medal of the Arts, a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, an Oscar nomination, and an Emmy Award.
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Historical Context of Zero Hour

World War II came to an end in 1945, two years prior to the initial publication of “Zero Hour.” For the United States, peace was only temporary—two years later, the Cold War began, and three years after that, the Korean War. “Zero Hour” was published during this brief, tenuous moment of peace in 1947. The parents in “Zero Hour,” like Mrs. Morris and Helen, grew up during World War II, so they are no strangers to worldwide conflict, fear, and destruction. However, in the story’s present (set in the future, around 1980 or 1990), the world is enjoying seemingly permanent world peace and stability, and adults have grown complacent. Such assuredness in this peace and in their country’s strength blinds the adults to the possibility of an outside attack—an alien invasion. Somehow, children under the age of ten are able to build highly complicated contraptions that aid the aliens in teleporting to Earth. This focus on technology and innovation—especially when used to bring about death and destruction—echoes the extraordinary technological advances that took place during World War II. With helicopters, computers, nuclear bombs, and the V-2 missile (which set the stage for future advancements in rockets and space travel), World War II brimmed with technological advancements that enabled the bloodiest war in history. “Zero Hour” wrestles with the way that technology has the power to suddenly wipe out democracy and humankind.

Other Books Related to Zero Hour

Bradbury’s “Zero Hour” resembles H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel, The War of the Worlds. In it, Martians invade London, which is a hub of political and economic power. The Martians bring chaos and destruction to the seemingly invincible British Empire, just as Drill and his fellow aliens successfully target the “impregnable” United States. Both works provide an unsettling reminder that peace and political strength are fleeting, and that even strong, powerful countries aren’t impervious to conflict. “Zero Hour” is also thematically similar to Bradbury’s short story “The Last Night of the World,” which also appears in The Illustrated Man. In the story, a husband and wife come to terms with the impending destruction of the Earth. Unlike in “Zero Hour,” the end of the world is gentle, like the “closing of a book.” However, the husband and wife must grapple with similar feelings of fear and denial that plague Mrs. Morris in “Zero Hour.” In addition, Bradbury’s “Marionettes, Inc.,” also in The Illustrated Man, has an eerie tone that mirrors that of “Zero Hour.” In both short stories, ignorant adults realize they have been blind to a dangerous situation, but the realization comes far too late, and the adults are overthrown or even killed.
Key Facts about Zero Hour
  • Full Title: “Zero Hour”
  • When Written: 1947
  • Where Written: Los Angeles
  • When Published: Originally published as a standalone story in 1947; republished as part of The Illustrated Man in 1951
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Science fiction; short story
  • Setting: The suburbs of New York
  • Climax: When Mr. and Mrs. Morris hide in the attic from the aliens, who have successfully invaded the Earth
  • Antagonist: Drill and his fellow aliens
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for Zero Hour

As Seen (Briefly) on TV. ABC’s The Whispers is a science fiction show inspired by Bradbury’s “Zero Hour.” The show only lasted one season, airing for just two months in 2015.