Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” is pretty easy to understand, on a superficial level, at least. After a city is struck by an atomic bomb, all that is left standing is an automated house, which performs the same functions it did when people where still living there. One day a fire breaks out, and the house burns down.
Where the story starts to break open is when the house recites a poem, “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sara Teasdale. The poem, written in response to World War 1, said how once humanity has destroyed itself, nature will quickly take over, and it will be like humanity was never there. Bradbury’s story is a take on the same concept – what will happen when everyone is gone – but with the background of the Cold War. Humanity has managed to destroy itself, but we did that so utterly that even nature can not reclaim the earth. In the world of the story, all that is left are a few strays and one mechanized house – one of the strays even dies of radiation poisoning in the day the story covers.
In lieu of any human characters, the main character of the story is the house itself, waiting for its owners to come back. Bradbury continuously personifies the house, giving it roughly the same awareness as a child. It realizes that it has been abandoned, but it can’t do anything but act as if it had not been, trapped by its programming. Bradbury evokes pity for the house, and in doing so almost accuses humanity of leaving it behind, saying “Look, it needs you! How selfish it was of you to abandon it.” The story urges the reader to survive, not for any idealized goal of “humanity must survive,” but instead for the things we would leave behind, and the damage we would cause to the world.