Summary: “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury begins with Lydia Hadley raising her concerns about the nursery in the HappyLife Home with her husband George. They go to the nursery, where they find themselves in an African Veldt watching lions and vultures in the aftermath of a lions meal. The lions begin to stalk towards the couple, prompting them to flee the nursery, followed by George consoling Lydia. This leads into a conversation about turning the entire house off and living self-sufficiently, because Lydia feels she is not necessary anymore because the house fills her roles as wife and mother, and the children like it better. The couple sits down for dinner, and George thinks about shutting down the nursery and the implications of the Veldt being their children’s preferred scenery. He returns to nursery and discovers it won’t change into anything but the Veldt, and that he can no longer control it the way he is supposed to be able to. He shares this discovery with his wife, who suggests that Peter, their son, may have tampered with it. The children arrive home, and, when questioned, say that the room has never been Africa, even proving this to their parents. George remains suspicious upon finding a mangled wallet of his in the nursery, and decides to lock it. They discuss their children’s behavioral problems, before hearing two screams from the nursery. Some time later, Peter and George argue about locking up the nursery and turning the house off. Peter is averse to the idea, even going so far as to threaten his father. The next day, David McClean, a psychologist, comes to inspect the nursery and reveals that their behavioral change is due to their parents disciplining them for the first time, and suggests they shut the room off and then discover an mangled scarf of Lydia’s. The children are angry at hearing the room is going to be shut off, prompting George to turn off every electronic in the house. George allows the children one last visit to the nursery, and soon after the children call him and Lydia in. They are trapped in, surrounded by lions, and realize that the screams they have been hearing from the room are there’s, and that the children are imagining their deaths in the nursery. The scene cuts to McClean entering the nursery to find the children watching lions devour their prey, Mr. and Mrs. Hadley out of sight.
The chronic tension is that the Hadleys spoiled their children for most of their lives and then decided to take a more disciplinary role and their children don’t like that. The acute tension is that the nursery in their home won’t change from the African veldt when the adults try to change it and the lions are constantly eating something.
The two devices I tracked throughout the story were how the children, Wendy and Peter, were characterized through the story’s dialogue, and the significance of the jump cuts and scene breaks and how they are used to bring focus onto the important parts of the story and introduce new concepts.
There are a total of four scene breaks and jump cuts through the story, only one of which is not shown through the use of a break in the lines. This one occurs between the lines
“Of course not,” he said.
At dinner they ate alone, for Wendy and Peter were at a special plastic fair across town.
I was curious as to why Ray Bradbury chose to include this cut without a line break, as he did with all of the others. At first I thought it might be because the cut in the story of the quote might be the only one in which the cut separated events occurring on the same day, but that, unfortunately, was not true. There were two cuts in the story that separate events from the same day, this one and one occurring at
“Mr. and Mrs. Hadley screamed.
And suddenly they realized why those other screams had sounded familiar.
* * *
“Well, here I am,” said David McClean from the nursery door.
Of course, this one is indicated by a line break, which meant that my hypothesis was incorrect. Assuming that Ray Bradbury meant something by the line breaks, and that the break without the * * * was not merely an accident, I had to keep thinking about it. But then I wondered if it wasn’t Bradbury who had made the mistake, but the person making the PDF. I looked up a different copy of the story, which, surprisingly, had 7 * * *. I compared the two versions and concluded that The Veldt’s breaks come at moments in which dialogue and action that is unnecessary in furthering the plot would occur naturally in the day of the Hadley’s. Such as in the section
“Very well.” And Peter walked off to the nursery.
* * *
“Am I on time?” said David McClean.
It would be extra and extraneous to include paragraphs dedicated to the rest of George’s day and night, when the part that advances the plot occurs at the arrival of McClean. Although it might seem more fluid to just do a summary of the night, the jump cuts give focus to the parts of the story that are important. This story once again gives light to the concept that you can have an entire story in scene, but not an entire story in summary, as Ray Bradbury has chosen to just remove the parts in summary, save a few lines, in favor of moving directly to the next scene. Bradbury utilizes this tactic through many of his stories, such as “There Will Come Soft Rains,” which is split up into sections by numbers.
I imagine the scene breaks like flashing images, similar to the way the nursery would change if it was working properly. It gives a jilted feel to reading the story that seems normal when reading it, but stands out greatly when reading it with the intention to understand the purpose they serve.
The second device I tracked was the characterization of Wendy and Peter through the story’s bountiful dialogue. If you read the story, you’ll know that Peter and Wendy are little monsters, but there are very little actions in the story that could convey that fact straight from the text, because, let’s face it, we all know they killed their parents (or do we?). Besides George’s thoughts, the dialogue is their source of characterization.
The first piece of information we get about the two, other than they read about Africa, comes from this quote:
“You know how difficult Peter is about that. When I punished him a month ago by locking it for even a few hours – the way he lost his temper! And Wendy too. They live for the nursery.”
I’d say this quote is one of the best for getting the essence of the children’s character: they love the nursery, and they will become very upset if it is taken from them. This plays a part, of course, throughout the story and is addressed directly by McClean:
“Everything. Where before they had a Santa Claus now they have a Scrooge. Children prefer Santa. You’ve let this room and this house replace you and your wife in your children’s feelings. This room is their mother and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents. And now you come along and want to shut it off. No wonder there’s hatred here.”
But they are not just characterized in the way the adults speak of them, but in how they speak to adults. When Peter talks to George and says
“I thought we were free to play as we wished.”
“You are, within reasonable limits.”
“What’s wrong with Africa, Father?”
“Oh, so now you admit you have been thinking up Africa, do you?”
“I wouldn’t want the nursery locked up,” said Peter coldly. “Ever.”’
We can see how he talks to his father, and makes a habit in constantly challenging his authority.
This tendency towards harshness can clue the reader into the cause of the parents’ death. If we were to see Wendy and Peter as laughing, polite children who simply loved playing in the veldt periodically, then we might have doubt that they were the cause of their parents’ death. But because of the cold, obsessive behavior they are given through the dialogue, we can infer that they killed their parents.
Something I’d like to use from this story is the way Bradbury world-builds by simply stating facts that are true in the world without needing to justify them. He doesn’t need to add in a character who is new to the world to help show the readers all of the facets of the universe, the world simply is and it is accepted that way. I think I would find that very difficult to write without leaving miles of questions, but I would still like to try.
- What purpose does David McClean serve in the story? How does Ray Bradbury use him to advance to the plot?
- Could Lydia be considered a character prop? If so, what qualities (or the lack thereof) make her one? If not, why is she included?
The two devices I highlighted in the story were Narrative Echo (Using the repeating screams we hear) and the power relationship between our protagonist, George Hadley, and the house.
Narrative Echo is when something is repeated or reinforced throughout a story. In Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt,” Narrative Echo is seen through the constant, blood curdling screams heard by the protagonist, George Hadley, and his wife, Lydia. When it first pops up in the story, Bradbury has casually inserted it, almost as an afterthought, yet it stilled creepy and unnerving.
“Did you hear that scream?” she asked.
“About a minute ago?”
The rest of the story uses the screams around eleven times, and each time they occur they’re creepier and harder to ignore than the last. Both the reader and Bradbury’s protagonist start to dread them more and more.
A moment later they heard the screams. Two screams. Two people screaming from downstairs.
And then a roar of lions.
Narrative Echo is primarily used to drive home a point or increase a specific emotion felt by the reader. In “The Veldt,” Narrative Echo is used by Ray Bradbury to increase the story’s tension and create a sense of building dread, as the screams becoming more pronounced and the reader expects a worse and worse outcome for our main characters. The screams remain the most chilling feature of the african setting the children play in, and we are deftly aware of their presence near the climax of the story. Another element is also added to their appearance around the halfway point.
“Those screams – they sound familiar.”
This new characteristic of the narrative echo brings further dread and fear to the repeated screams. The reader remains unnerved by this element and the still continuing screams from the nursery take on a new feeling of horror for the rest of the story. The Narrative Echo is brought to a conclusion during the climax of the story, when George Hadley and his wife are trapped in the nursery. The Narrative Echo does not fizzle out or become defunct, but instead receives a chilling pay-off.
Mr. Hadley looked at his wife and they turned and looked back at the beasts edging slowly forward, bent, tails in the air.
Mr. and Mrs. Hadley screamed.
And suddenly they realized why those other screams had sounded familiar.
The other element I tracked was the power struggle between the story’s protagonist, George Hadley, and the nominal antagonist of the story, the nursery. This hero-villain relationship is interesting in the fact that our antagonist is not human, nor do we even know if it really has any sentience. The house controlling the nursery has one line of dialogue, but it could be very well prerecorded and pre programmed into the machine.
“Sorry,” said a small voice within the table, and tomato sauce appeared.
The central conflict of the story is the bitterness felt by the children at their parents and their placement of parental feelings on the nursery, which is directly referenced by the psychologist while talking to George Hadley.
“Everything. Where before they had a Santa Claus now they have a Scrooge. Children prefer Santa. You’ve let this room and this house replace you and your wife in your children’s feelings. This room is their mother and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents. And now you come along and want to shut it off. No wonder there’s hatred here. You can feel it coming out of the sky. Feel that sun. George, you’ll have to change your life. Like too many others, you’ve built it around creature comforts. Why, you’d go hungry tomorrow if something went wrong in your kitchen. You wouldn’t know how to cook an egg. All the same, turn everything off. Start new. It’ll take time. But we’ll make good children out of bad in a year, wait and see.”
Though this is directly revealed to the audience near the end of the story, the parental conflict between George Hadley and the nursery are evident throughout the story. Near it’s opening, Hadley and his wife have (what the reader knows is) a near fatal experience with the lions in the african veldt. This is the first instance of the conflict between Hadley and the nursery that continues through the story.
“Watch out!” screamed Lydia.
The lions came running at them. Lydia turned suddenly and ran. Without thinking, George ran after her. Outside in the hall, after they had closed the door quickly and noisily behind them, he was laughing and she was crying.
Hadley initially brushes this encounter off, but as the narrative continues Hadley’s relationship with the nursery becomes harsher and harsher. When he goes into the nursery to turn off the Veldt, it refuses to cooperate with him, remaining in it’s african setting and setting George Hadley off.
“Go away,” he said to the lions.
They did not go. He knew exactly how the room should work. You sent out your thoughts.
Whatever you thought would appear. “Let’s have Aladdin and his lamp,” he said angrily. The veldt remained; the lions remained.
“Come on, room! I demand Aladdin!” he said.
Nothing happened. The lions made soft low noises in the hot sun.
He went back to dinner. “The fool room’s out of order,” he said. “It won’t change.”
When Wendy and her brother Peter return home, Hadley find them resistant and cold to his explanation of why they might be turning off the house for a bit. They both lie to him about the nature of the nursery and change it away from the african veldt scene. With this, Bradbury incorporates a new element into the conflict- the nursery’s paternal/maternal relationship with the children. Much of the conflict between Hadley and the nursery is exhibited through Hadley’s interactions with his children.
George Hadley looked in at the changed scene. “Go to bed,” he said to the children.
They opened their mouths.
“You heard me,” he said.
“I don’t know anything,” he said, “except that I’m beginning to be sorry we bought that room for the children. If children are suffering from any kind of emotional problem, a room like that…”
“It’s supposed to help them work off their emotional problems in a healthy way.”
“I’m starting to wonder.” His eyes were wide open, looking up at the ceiling.
“We’ve given the children everything they ever wanted. Is this our reward – secrecy, not doing what we tell them?”
“Who was it said, ‘Children are carpets, they should be stepped on occasionally’? We’ve never lifted a hand. They’re unbearable – let’s admit it. They come and go when they like; they treat us as if we were the children in the family. They’re spoiled and we’re spoiled.”
“Will you shut off the house sometime soon?”
“We’re considering it.”
“I don’t think you’d better consider it any more, Father.”
“I won’t have any threats from my son!”
“Very well.” And Peter walked off to the nursery.
An element I can take from this story to incorporate into my own writing is the extremely effective and powerful use of narrative echo. It really helps create a creepy and unnerving atmosphere for the story to take place in, and even transcends its role as a theme setting element by being revealed to be a clue to the fates of the story’s main characters.
- To what extent does Bradbury’s use of narrative echo effect the story? Would it remain as effective without it?
- How does Bradbury reveal the nature of the Hadleys’ feelings about the nursery? Through dialogue or through other literary devices?
The first element I tracked in this story was foreshadowing. One way Bradbury foreshadows the climax of the story is through the repeated use of the screams. The first time they are mentioned in the story is during George and Lydia’s first foray into the nursery in the story, when Lydia asks her husband
“Did you hear that scream?”
which she heard before they entered, to which he replies no. The screams are heard again before George enters the nursery a second time, this time followed by a lions roar. The next time the screams are heard Lydia remarks
“Those screams – they sound familiar.”
The screams repeat again when George and David McClean are about to enter the nursery, and at the climax of the story, George and Lydia scream before they are eaten by the lions, and realize that the other screams are their own. This is effective foreshadowing because the screams go from just signifying that their children are imagining death in the nursery, to them imagining the deaths of someone who is familiar to them, to signifying their own deaths. It also is effective because the repetition of a single event creates tension in the readers because the event repeats in the readers head and indicates to the reader that screaming and lions devouring their prey will be involved in the climax. Another way Bradbury includes foreshadowing in the story is using George’s wallet and Lydia’s scarf. After the children changed the Veldt into a rainforest, George finds one of his old wallets, which is described as
“wet from being in the lion’s mouth, there were tooth marks on it, and there was dried blood on both sides.”
This insinuates that the children were imagining something violent in relation to George, (the lions most likely maimed some imaginary version of him, indicated by the teeth marks and the blood), which indicates that something similar will happen to George later in the story. The damage to the wallet and the inclusion of blood also indicate that it is possible for the images created by the nursery to become real, or at least affect real-life object. Much the same can be said of the inclusion of Lydia’s scarf. The inclusion of the objects in conjunction with the twin screams also leads the reader to conclude that the two screams are George and Lydia’s, further foreshadowing their demise at the story’s climax.
The second technique I tracked through this story was Bradbury’s use of concrete details and names to build the futuristic world of the story believably, as well as to build the environment of the African Veldt created by the nursery. One way Bradbury uses concrete details to enhance the believability is by nonchalantly dropping them into sentences. One example of this is when George is eating dinner and meditating on the nursery, and the story states
“He ate the meat that the table had cut for him without tasting it.”
By dropping this detail about the futuristic capabilities of the technology in the house without drawing attention/emphasizing it, the detail seems more natural and believable to the audience. Because Bradbury does not feel the need to justify the technology, instead simply stating that it is, the audience is more inclined to accept the way Bradbury builds the futuristic world instead of questioning it. He does much the same thing by including the mechanics of the nursery in George’s reassuring of Lydia, which makes the explanation seem more like well-known and absolute facts. Another way that Bradbury enhances his worldbuilding is through given items certain names, as well as associating specific prices with them. The best example of this is when Bradbury describes them walking to the nursery, saying
“They walked down the hall of their HappyLife Home, which had cost them thirty thousand dollars with everything included.”
Giving the house a specific, seemingly trademarked name makes it seem more realistic, much like the names iPhone and Xbox. Because Bradbury has the name capitalized, it seems more realistic and technological to the audience, and the way it is delivered adds to the suspension of disbelief because Bradbury includes the name as if it simply is instead of attempting to justify this. The inclusion of the home’s price also adds to the realistic nature of the story because the attribution of a specific price adds to the realism, as money is something the audience is familiar with, and attributing a price brings the audience further into the narrative, as it is possible to compare the house to items in our world of a comparable price. It also adds to the authenticity of the house, because by giving it a price, Bradbury expands the house into a larger world where money is still relevant and because it is a tangible amount that deepens the reality of the story.
What I want to take away from this story is Bradbury’s ability to use a repeating event to create tension in the audience without it getting annoying or the timing becoming overly predictable. I also want to use his ease and nonchalance in dropping details into a narrative to build the world of my stories in order to make the narrative more believable.
- The general of thumb with foreshadowing is that you want it to be obvious enough for the audience to put together but still subtle enough that they are satisfied by their discovery. Do you think Bradbury’s foreshadowing falls into that category, or is it too obvious/not obvious enough? Why? How would you change it to make it fit those parameters?
- Is Bradbury’s world building effective in creating a realistic setting for the story? Would you change it so the futuristic elements are more fully explained/justified, or do you prefer the approach he uses? Why?