In “Zero Hour,” Ray Bradbury depicts a perfect, cookie-cutter neighborhood in the suburbs of New York. However, amidst the meticulously manicured lawns and streets “lined with good green and peaceful trees,” a dangerous game called “Invasion” has cropped up, and every child in America under ten years old is in on it. According to Drill, the leader of the aliens, the goal of the game is for the children to help the aliens successfully invade the earth. If the Invasion goes as planned and the children “win” the game, they will be rewarded with more television, later bedtimes, no more baths, and the chance to “run the world.” Even though the game is real—the children really are aiding an alien Invasion—parents across the nation casually write it off as imaginative play. Through the story’s portrayal of seven-year-old Mink Morris and her interactions with her mother, Mrs. Morris, it’s clear that this flippant attitude is what bothers children the most. Essentially, the story suggests that children long to be taken seriously by their parents.
Mrs. Morris and the other adults in the town assume the children’s activities are a silly game of pretend, so they don’t pay attention to the things their children say or do. Unbeknownst to the adults, the children are in the midst of a dangerous, life-threatening game that could destroy humankind and the earth. However, the parents largely ignore the game and the children altogether: “Meanwhile, parents came and went in chromium beetles. […] The adult civilization passed and repassed the busy youngsters, jealous of the fierce energy of the wild tots, tolerantly amused at their flourishings, longing to join in themselves.” The parents wish to take part in what they see as the frivolous “flourishings” of childhood, emphasizing what little weight they give to the things children say or do. While Mink is out playing, Mrs. Morris’ friend Helen calls. The two women laugh about the silly Invasion game, and Helen says, “Parents learn to shut their ears.” Helen’s comment implies that the things children talk about and are interested in are unimportant and distracting for adults, so adults learn to tune out their children’s meaningless chatter.
Even the slightly older neighborhood children—those over the age of ten—fail to take the young children or the Invasion seriously. The older children in the neighborhood, meaning “those ten years and more, disdained the affair and marched scornfully off on hikes or played a more dignified version of hide-and-seek on their own.” The older children are “scornful” and “dignified,” illustrating a sharp divide between the younger children, who aren’t taken seriously, and the older children, who think they are too serious and mature for such childish games. When twelve-year-old Joseph Connors wants to play the Invasion game, Mink shoos him away, claiming, “You’d just make fun of us.” Joseph’s friend tells the boy to give up and “Let them sissies play […] Them and their fairies! Nuts!” Joseph’s friend considers the children’s game to be make believe (like “fairies”) and thus immature and foolish. Later, Mink admits to her mother, “We’re having trouble with guys like Pete Britz and Dale Jerrick. They’re growing up. They make fun. They’re worse than parents. They just won’t believe in Drill. They’re so snooty, ‘cause they’re growing up. You’d think they’d know better. They were little only a coupla years ago. I hate them worst. We’ll kill them first.” The feeling of not being taken seriously runs so deep in Mink that she threatens to kill all those who are “snooty” and “growing up.”
Mink Morris is clearly bothered by the flippant attitude that the adults and older children display and wishes to be taken seriously—an attitude, the story implies, almost all young children share. When Mrs. Morris asks her daughter who Drill is, Mink replies, “You’ll make fun. Everybody pokes fun. Gee, darn.” Mink’s comment is defensive, underscoring her deep discontent at being treated as insignificant and foolish by seemingly “everybody.” Mink eventually explains to Mrs. Morris that the aliens are “not exactly Martians. They’re—I don’t know. From up.” Her mom replies that the aliens are also from “inside,” and she touches Mink’s forehead. Realizing that her mother is insinuating that the aliens are just inside of her head (that is, just a product of her imagination), Mink is frustrated that her mom fails to take her words and beliefs seriously: “You’re laughing! You’ll kill Drill and everybody! […] Drill says you’re dangerous! Know why? ‘Cause you don’t believe in Martians! They’re going to let us run the world. Well, not just us, but the kids over in the next block, too. I might be queen.” By claiming that she may get to “run the world” and “be queen,” Mink illustrates how the aliens have successfully strung the children along with the promise of power and influence—two things they crave but don’t have in the world run by adults.
Throughout the story, Bradbury illustrates a sharp division between adults and children, as children long to be taken seriously and listened to, while adults casually disregard the things their children say and do as being silly and rooted in imagination. The aliens manage to capitalize on this conflict, to devastating effect. Through “Zero Hour,” then, Bradbury spins a cautionary tale, urging parents to pay closer attention to their children and value what they have to say.
Adults vs. Children ThemeTracker
Adults vs. Children Quotes in Zero Hour
It was an interesting fact that this fury and bustle occurred only among the younger children. The older ones, those ten years and more, disdained the affair and marched scornfully off on hikes or played a more dignified version of hide-and seek on their own. […] The adult civilization passed and repassed the busy youngsters, jealous of the fierce energy of the wild tots, tolerantly amused at their flourishings, longing to join in themselves.
“I wanna play,” said Joseph.
“Can’t!” said Mink.
“You’d just make fun of us.”
“Honest, I wouldn’t.”
“No. We know you. Go away or we’ll kick you.”
Joseph showed reluctance and a certain wistfulness. “I want to play,” he said.
“You’re old,” said Mink firmly.
“Not that old,” said Joe sensibly.
“You’d only laugh and spoil the Invasion.”
Mink talked earnestly to someone near the rosebush—though there was no one there.
These odd children.
Mink rebelled. “You’re laughing! You’ll kill Drill and everybody.”
“They couldn’t find a way to attack, Mom. Drill says—he says in order to make a good fight you got to have a new way of surprising people. That way you win. And he says also you got to have help from your enemy. […] And they couldn’t find a way to surprise Earth or get help. […] Until, one day,” whispered Mink melodramatically, “they thought of children! […] And they thought of how grownups are so busy they never look under rosebushes or on lawns!”
“And there’s something about kids under nine and imagination. It’s real funny to hear Drill talk.”
Mrs. Morris was tired. “Well, it must be funny. You’re keeping Drill waiting now. It’s getting late in the day and, if you want to have your Invasion before your supper bath, you’d better jump.”
“Drill says I won’t have to take baths […] He told all the kids that. No more baths. And we can stay up till ten o’clock and go to two televisor shows on Saturday ‘stead of one!”
“We’re having trouble with guys like Pete Britz and Dale Jerrick. They’re growing up. They make fun. They’re worse than parents. They just won’t believe in Drill. They’re so snooty, ‘cause they’re growing up. You’d think they’d know better. They were little only a coupla years ago. I hate them worse. We’ll kill them first.”
“Your father and I last?”
“Drill says you’re dangerous. Know why? ‘Cause you don’t believe in Martians! They’re going to let us run the world. Well, not just us, but the kids over in the next block, too. I might be queen.”
“Mink, was that Peggy Ann crying?”
Mink was bent over in the yard, near the rosebush.
“Yeah. She’s a scarebaby. We won’t let her play, now. She’s getting too old to play. I guess she grew up all of a sudden.”
She was babbling wild stuff now. It came out of her. All the subconscious suspicion and fear that had gathered secretly all afternoon and fermented like a wine in her. All the little revelations and knowledges and sense that had bothered her all day and which she had logically and carefully and sensibly rejected and censored. Now it exploded in her and shook her to bits.