In “Zero Hour,” a short story written by Ray Bradbury, a group of aliens manipulates young children into helping the aliens invade the earth. Drill, the apparent leader of the aliens, convinces the impressionable children that Invasion is a game, and that the children can win if they successfully follow instructions and aid the aliens in coming to Earth. According to Drill, the rewards for winning the game are manifold: later bedtimes, two television shows on Saturday nights instead of one, and no more baths. The aliens specifically target children under ten years old—that is, children who are most naïve and trusting. By taking advantage of the children’s impressionability, the aliens successfully manipulate the children into helping bring about the Invasion and the end of humankind (or at least, as the story implies, the destruction of all adults). In the story, Bradbury reveals how impressionability is an essential part of childhood, as it allows children to learn and grow. However, through the character of Mink Morris, Bradbury cautions that such naivety means children are easily manipulated and taken advantage of.
The story shows how all children are impressionable when they’re young, and that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When Mrs. Morris forces her daughter, Mink, to pause her game to eat all of her soup at lunchtime, Mink protests, “Hurry, Mom! This is a matter of life and death!” Amused, Mrs. Morris replies, “I was the same way at your age. Always life and death. I know.” Gesturing back to her own childhood, Mrs. Morris illustrates how children have a distorted sense of urgency about things, but that this is common and even charming. It seems that Drill may have told Mink that he and his fellow aliens would die if they couldn’t invade the Earth, which tugged at her heart strings and convinced her to help with the Invasion. Of course, the Invasion really is a “matter of life and death,” because the story’s ending implies that all adults (and possibly all humans) will be destroyed. At lunch, Mink even asks her mother what “im-pres-sion-able” means, implying that Drill openly called her and the other children impressionable, but they didn’t know what the word meant. “Laughing gently,” Mrs. Morris answers, “It means—to be a child, dear.” Instead of painting impressionability in a negative light (as a lack of critical thinking skills and a proclivity to be taken advantage of or be easily influenced), Mrs. Morris simply points to the way that impressionability is inextricably linked to childhood.
However, the story emphasizes that is easy—and of course, morally abhorrent—to take advantage of an impressionable child. Mink describes Drill’s plan to Mrs. Morris, who fails to take it seriously: “‘they couldn’t figure a way to surprise Earth or get help. […] Until one day,’ whispered Mink melodramatically, ‘they thought of children!’” It appears that Drill straightforwardly told Mink about his plan to manipulate the children, but because of her wide-eyed innocence, Mink didn’t process the fact that she was being used. Later, Mink asks her mom what “lodge-ick” is. Mrs. Morris answers that “logic is knowing what things are true and not true.” Mink excitedly replies, “He mentioned that.” From this conversation, it again seems that Drill directly told Mink that he was targeting children because they are impressionable and not logical—however, since she didn’t know what the words meant (and still doesn’t fully understand), Mink didn’t comprehend that she and the other children were being taken advantage of. Furthermore, Mink is convinced that Drill will let her be queen if she helps with the Invasion. Of course, it’s doubtful that the leader of the aliens would allow Mink—a random seven-year-old girl—to be queen. The aliens are likely to want all of the power for themselves and are merely stringing the children along to get them to help with the Invasion as a “fifth column.” Drill also convinces the children in the neighborhood that they—along with “the kids over in the next block”—will “run the world” after the Invasion. Considering the fact that the Invasion game has swept the entire nation (and perhaps the world), it seems odd that Drill would specifically choose Mink and her friends (and the kids from the next block) to rule the world. It’s more likely that he made this same promise to every group of children helping with the Invasion. By making the disclaimer that “the kids over in the next block” will rule, too, Drill keeps kids from different neighborhoods from being suspicious that perhaps more than one group of kids has been told they can rule the world, and then suspecting that perhaps the aliens shouldn’t be trusted.
Drill and the other aliens capitalize on the children’s impressionability, ultimately manipulating them into bringing about an alien Invasion. Although Bradbury highlights the negative repercussions of children’s impressionability, he doesn’t blame the children. Instead, he emphasizes the adults’ failure to tap into that impressionability to help their children learn and grown. The children in “Zero Hour” are left to their own devices, and are thus vulnerable for Drill to take advantage of them.
Impressionability and Manipulation ThemeTracker
Impressionability and Manipulation 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 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.”