The story opens with a clock announcing that it is time to wake up and a hint of premonition that perhaps no one will. In the kitchen, the stove cooks breakfast and a voice from the ceiling announces the setting: Allendale, California, on August 4, 2026. The automated house prepares itself for the day, but its inhabitants have not responded to several wake up calls, breakfast, the weather box, or the waiting car. The robotic mice finish cleaning the house, and it is revealed that the family who lived in the house — two parents, a daughter and son — have died.
They are now “five spots of paint” against a house covered with a “thin charcoal layer. ” The city is in rubble and the “radioactive glow” emitted in the area indicates that an atomic blast has wiped out Allendale, if not the world. The family dog returns to the house and is let in by the front door which recognizes the dog’s whine. He is alive but injured from the bomb. Covered with mud he enters the house, and the robotic cleaning mice are annoyed that they will need to clean up after him.
The narrator explains that all dust and debris is cleaned by the mice and fed into an incinerator which sits “like evil Baal,” a reference to the heathen god of the Old Testament and Satan’s chief lieutenant in Paradise Lost by Dante. Within an hour the dog is dead, presumably from radiation poisoning. Afternoon settles in and the house continues its routine. A card table is set up, drinks are poured, the nursery transforms into a jungle scene. The stove prepares a dinner that will not be eaten and a faceless voice begins to read a poem by Sara Teasdale, an American poet who killed herself in 1933.
The poem tells of a soft rain that falls while nature circles, shimmers, and sings, amidst a war that neither birds nor frogs care about — even if all the people die. At the poem’s end, a wind comes up, spills a bottle, and starts a fire that quickly engulfs the house. Mechanical mice and faucets come to the rescue, but the fire prevails. The voices within the house begin to die and the house implodes. All that remains is “smoke and silence. ” Dawn appears, and one last, lone mechanical voice announces the new day: August 5, 2026 Characters The House There Will Come Soft Rains” is an unusual story in that it contains no human characters. However, because of its anthropomorphic characteristics — its ability to act on its own — the house itself is a character. It continues to function even after the world around it has been destroyed. Although not specifically stated in the story, it is implied that all human life on earth has been obliterated. All that remain are shadowy silhouettes of figures burned into the side of the house by the blast of the bomb. The house is computerized and has been programmed to proceed with its routine without the intervention of a human being.
The computer wakes the house’s inhabitants up from their sleep, it cooks the family’s meals, cleans the house, and even sets up the card table for the regular bridge game. The house is efficient, dependable, and well-programmed. This is ironic, though, because without the people there, all these functions serve no purpose. The meals go uneaten, there is no one to play the card game, and no one listens when the computer reads the poem from which the story takes it name, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” by Sara Teasdale.
Thus, the house is dutiful but also rigid and unchanging. The house is also characterized by the “cleaning mice,” who are somewhat annoyed by the mess made by the dog. This animal arrives at the house sick with radiation poisoning and tracks mud into the house. The agony of the dying dog is not acknowledged by the cleaning mice; they express only annoyance when forced to clean up its mess. This is also ironic because it demonstrates the inability of the house to sympathize and its sense of exasperation, normally human emotions.
When the wind blows a tree branch through a kitchen window and knocks over a bottle of cleaning fluid, the house also imitates human behavior by attempting to save itself from the fire. Bradbury makes the house seem like it is experiencing the human instinct for self-preservation. This is another instance of irony, since this “instinct” fails to preserve the house’s “life,” and exposes its “human” behavior as an imitation only. Thus, ultimately the house represents the inability of technology to replace humans, and the inferiority of technology when confronted by nature.
Themes Bradbury’s tale, devoid of human characters and concerned with failed technology, presents several themes that explore the dark side of the symbiotic relationship between people and their inventions. Individual Vs. Machine Although the tragedy in this story has already taken place by the time the story opens, it is actually the conflict between human beings and the machines they create that is at the heart of this story. In Bradbury’s view, people put too much faith in the machines they invent.
People have the power to create devices that can destroy themselves, but they have not enacted any measures to prevent this from happening. Bradbury believes that technology is a very wondrous — yet also very dangerous — thing. He illustrates technology’s marvels: a house that can clean itself and take care of its inhabitants. On the other hand, technology has also transformed the house’s family into nothing but carbon shadows. By writing a story with no human interaction, Bradbury demonstrates the sterility of a world without people.
The computerized house has no feelings — it cannot love and it cannot hate — it can only be programmed. Likewise, the nuclear bomb that killed the family had no inherent emotions; it simply did what it was created to do. In this world of “morally neutral” technology, Bradbury proposes that humankind is destroyed by its own hubris, or self-confidence. Once a machine’s creator is dispensed with, like the house’s family, the machine is empty and meaningless. Nature Vs. Science Despite the horror inflicted by science upon the earth in “There Will Come Soft Rains,” nature is shown to be an even more powerful force.
Humans have created a bomb that destroys them all and a house that is incapable of being destroyed by the bomb. But fire, a force of nature, is able to destroy the house. In the end, the earth, though damaged, still exists. By describing this continuity, Bradbury points out his belief: that the earth was around long before humankind and it will be around long after. From this perspective, the folly of inventing machines that will overrule nature is exposed. Nothing is more powerful than nature, so humans are doomed to destroying only lesser powers, such as themselves. Death and Fear
By setting the story in a time of human extinction, Bradbury plays upon people’s fear of death. He imagines the world without humans, telling readers that they have been reduced to shadow outlines on buildings. For those who have seen photographs of the atomic destruction that ended World War II, they are vivid and horrifying images. An ominous realization this brings about is the fact that even without people, the world will continue. Nature is indifferent to human existence, Bradbury proposes. This realization should instill a healthy fear in people and trigger their instinct for self-preservation.
If people realize the tenuousness of their existence, Bradbury seems to say, perhaps they will take precautions to insure they are not eradicated, least of all by their own technology. The fear of dying is closely related to fear of killing. Bradbury, like many people during the 1950s and early 1960s, feared that if political leaders no longer feared killing their enemies, then human existence is doomed. This lack of fear was the philosophy behind nuclear proliferation and the concept of mutually assured destruction, which states that nuclear war will not happen if a country is guaranteed to be destroyed by the country it attacks.
Thus, moral regard for others’ lives would not be a factor in the decision to annihilate millions of people. It is only the thought of being killed themselves that prevents leaders from making a single phone call that could launch thousands of nuclear missiles. Style Irony Bradbury uses irony to great effect in the story. Irony in this case means presenting an outcome of a situation that is the opposite of what one would expect. Thus, it is ironic that the same technology which created a house that can cook and clean is also the technology which destroyed all the people on the planet.
Furthermore, it is ironic that such a sophisticated example of technology, the computerized house, can be destroyed by nature, represented by the tree limb which crashes through the window and starts the fire. Another irony involves the symbolism of the poem that the computer reads to the empty house. “There Will Come Soft Rains,” by Sara Teasdale, was written as a critical response to World War I. After all the wars are over, she says, the earth will continue despite all human efforts to prevent it. Though Teasdale could not have envisioned the devastation of nuclear war, her poem is still relevant.
Even a world which has been poisoned for thousands of years with radiation and can support no human life will continue to exist. That the house reads this apocalyptic vision that has already come to pass is the irony of the situation. Humans have been able to foresee their annihilation, and now nothing but their prophecies of it remain. The inherent contradiction that forms the irony of the story can also be said to be paradox. A paradox is a situation which seems to contradict itself. Thus, technology that was designed to protect people — i. e. uclear weapons — has actually killed them. Simile Bradbury uses similes, comparisons of unlike situations or things, to enhance the imagery of his prose. For instance, he states that the “nerves” of the house were “revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins and capillaries quiver in the scalded air. ” Thus, by giving the house nerves, he compares it to a living organism, one that is badly damaged. Besides creating a vivid image, this simile also relates the idea that the house can feel. The ability to feel is a human characteristic.
Ascribig human characteristics to inanimate objects is a literary device known as anthropomorphism. By describing the house in human terms, the author hopes the reader will identify with it, and thus feel empathy for the idea that it is the last working object on earth. It has lost its purpose — to serve others — because the others are no longer there. Though the house is an object with no emotions, the reader who identifies with it may feel loneliness and be able to imagine the pain of having one’s skin torn off.
In this way, Bradbury is able to evoke emotion in the reader, the mark of a successful narrative. In another simile, the fire “[feeds] upon Picassos and Matisses in the upper halls, like delicacies. ” The simile of priceless paintings being compared to food serves to anthropomorphize the fire. By eating the paintings, the fire is given a human characteristic. In a story with no human characters, the devices of similes and anthropomorphism give the reader something with which to identify. The yellow wallpaper Part 1 Analysis
In 1887, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, suffering for several years from depression and fatigue went to see noted physician Silas Weir Mitchell. Mitchell diagnosed her with “neurasthenia” and prescribed the “rest cure” evident in the story. Unable to write or see company, Gilman’s rest drove her to the brink of insanity over the next three months. She finally discarded his advice, moved to California, and resumed her work of writing. She soon felt better, and wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper,” an exaggerated version of her own experiences.
Though Mitchell did not respond when she sent him a copy, she learned later that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia after reading the story. Gilman wrote the story not merely to change one man’s view of neurasthenia, but to use the story as a symbol of the oppression of women in a paternalistic society. To begin with, we know the name of the narrator’s husband (John), but not her own. She is nearly anonymous; her identity is John’s wife. This power imbalance extends to other areas of their relationship. John dominates her, albeit in an ultimately patronizing manner.
His strong, practical, and stereotypically masculine nature is skeptical of her seemingly weak, “feminine” disorder (as neurasthenia and other mental illnesses were often categorized), and he, not she, diagnoses her problem and prescribes the cure. When he tells her to exercise self-control over her irritation with him, the effect is ironic; he controls nearly everything about her and even makes her feel ungrateful for not valuing his help enough. The major function of John’s control over her, as with Mitchell’s control over Gilman, is his inhibiting her from writing.
Though she feels writing would help her recover, as Gilman found, John believes it only saps her strength. He stifles her creativity and intellect and forces her into the domesticated position of a powerless wife. The act of hiding her writing whenever John is around is similar to the way literary women in the 18th-century, and even the late 19th-century (when “The Yellow Wallpaper” was written), had to hide their work from their families; Jane Austen is famous for having written her novels while periodically stowing away the manuscripts in her family’s living-room.
The narrator is imprisoned, unable to exercise dominion over her mind, and the structure of the house and its surroundings bears this out: “… there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people… I never saw such a garden – large and shady, full of box-bordered paths… ” Everything is separated and divided, boxed in, and locked like a prison, much as she is held captive in her room. In fact, the house itself seems designed for men; larger-than-life mansions are typically ymbols of masculine aggression and competitiveness, while its being a “hereditary estate” reminds us it was probably passed down to men in the family. Notably, the narrator wanted the more stereotypically feminine room, one that “opened on the piazza,” with “roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! ” Despite the airiness of her shared room with John, the barred windows symbolize her imprisonment. That the room may have been a former nursery is more important; she is forced into a helpless, infantile position with John as her caretaker.
In a motif that will assume more importance later in the story, she finds something strange on a “moonlit evening. ” Night is typically viewed in literature as an escape from the conscious order of the daytime; at night the subconscious runs wild with dreams. Moreover, the moon frequently symbolizes female intuition and sensitivity. Sunshine dominates the nursery during the day, much as John dominates the narrator during the day as he gives her “a schedule prescription for each hour in the day. Thus, sunshine is associated with ordered, masculine oppression, while the night seems to liberate the narrator in some form. Sunshine is also equated with the yellow wallpaper, which is “faded by the slow-turning sunlight. ” The “sickly sulphur tint” of wallpaper is also associated with illness. The title of the story clearly indicates that the wallpaper will grow more important, and Gilman hints that the chaos of the wallpaper’s pattern will have something to do with the story. For now, we can assume that the chaos has some association with the narrator’s seemingly disordered mind.
So far she is quite sane, but her narrative style of short sentences that move from topic to topic is similar to the wallpaper’s pattern of curves that “plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions. ” Note, too, that the wallpaper has been stripped off in two parts of the room, a fact that suggests an internal struggle or conflict: perhaps something is trying to break free. Part 2 Analysis This section of the story is the first time that the narrator reveals her personal insecurities about her illness.
Because of her ailment, the narrator is unable to fulfill her wifely and maternal duties, and she feels that she must be a terrible burden to John. Mary (likely an allusion to the ideal mother: the Virgin Mary) has replaced her as the caretaker of the couple’s baby, while Jennie is a model of the perfectly submissive and happily domesticated wife who cares for John’s house and welfare. With the narrator’s identities as wife and mother subverted, John acts more like a father to her than he does as a husband. He continues to infantilize her, calling her his “‘blessed little goose. ” This paternalistic attitude extends to Jennie, who “hopes for no better profession” than being a housekeeper and who probably believes writing is the cause of the narrator’s sickness. Jennie’s bias against writing, however, is less forceful than John’s is; John stifles the narrator’s “imaginative power and habit of story-making” when she merely looks outside and thinks she sees people. When the narrator attempts to convince him to repaper the nursery, John rejects her request almost immediately. He demonstrates his continued belief in his superiority over the narrator, particularly in terms of her health.
By removing the wallpaper, John believes that he will be indulging his patient, submitting to a foolish request. Yet, as the narrator notes, the wallpaper is already extremely damaged, with large spots missing. With that in mind, it seems as if John is refusing the narrator’s request simply for the sake of refusing it. He believes that acknowledging her dislike of the wallpaper is ultimately irrational, and he cannot allow himself to perpetuate her nervousness. John’s behavior in this section continues the paternalistic sense of his character that Gilman introduces in the first part of the story.
Not only is John oppressively paternalistic as a husband, he is worse because of his position of authority as the narrator’s physician. Significantly, John’s insistence on keeping the yellow wallpaper in the nursery will ultimately be far more detrimental to the narrator’s mental health. At this point in the story, the narrator also begins to demonstrate some mental issues. Her mind is growing more chaotic and disoriented, mirroring the image of the garden, with its “riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees. ” This initial chaos is also reflected in her writing, which becomes choppier and more distracted.
The wallpaper is also beginning to take a key position in her mind and daily reality. Instead of focusing on the general hideousness of the wallpaper as she had earlier, now the narrator begins to be preoccupied by specific elements of the pattern. In particular, she is drawn to a central pattern of broken heads and bulbous eyes. This aspect of the pattern is significant in terms of its violence; the popping eyes and deformed neck clearly suggest strangulation or suffocation, both of which relate to the narrator’s state of oppression in John’s house.
The narrator is also beginning to feels as if the wallpaper is watching her. Not only do John and Jennie watch her, carefully judging and quantifying her behavior, the wallpaper is observing her as well. This adds to the sense of imprisoned surveillance: even when the narrator is alone in the nursery, she is still being monitored. She also claims that she can see a figure in the wallpaper “where the sun is just so. ” This discovery relates to the sunlight motif and also foreshadows later events in the narrative. Part 3 Analysis The meaning of the wallpaper is, as the narrator says, growing clearer each day.
Beneath the confusing patterns, which closely mirror the narrator’s chaotic mind, she image of a woman in a somewhat subservient pose (“stooping down and creeping around”). The figure’s position corresponds to the narrator’s inferior position in her marriage and in the society. The bars that appear in the wallpaper continue to emphasize this connection between the narrator and the hazy feminine figure in trapped behind the pattern. Early in the story, the narrator notes the bars on the windows of the nursery, presumably to protect the children from falling out of the windows.
Yet, the woman behind the wallpaper is imprisoned behind bars as well, revealing that the narrator is also supposed to be imprisoned in the same way. Perhaps the bars did not even belong to the nursery but were installed in preparation for the narrator’s visit. Significantly, the narrator’s perspective toward the wallpaper also begins to change. She is obsessed with the swirling pattern in the wallpaper and even finds comfort in its irrationality when she is sad or lonely. She says: “There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me. Calling it “paper” rather than “wallpaper” suggests that the wallpaper functions similarly to the paper on which she has been secretly writing. The wallpaper is becoming a kind of literary text in which she can discover deep meaning under the surface and develop her own creativity. Throughout this section, John’s paternalism grows. He treats her more like his infant, calling her “his darling and his comfort,” as if her identity exists only through him. The narrator also believes “I must take care of myself for his sake,” a statement loaded with irony.
The irony of John’s control over her again resurfaces when he tells her she must use her “will and self-control” to get better when, in fact, he has been controlling her all along. The narrator’s desire to visit her Cousin Henry and Julia is undermined by John’s control over her. Although she attempts to outline a clear argument for the visit, John’s inability to comprehend her feelings results in a complete emotional breakdown. Because John does not allow the narrator to assume the role of a mature individual in charge of her own life, she is doomed to failure every time she attempts to make a point against him.
Gilman also takes the opportunity to make a boldly insulting reference to S. Weir Mitchell in this section. As the doctor who prescribed Gilman with a similar “rest cure” in 1887, Weir Mitchell is automatically presented as the underlying villain of the story, a physician who is “just like John and my brother, only more so! ” The narrator fears Weir Mitchell to such an extent that she would rather stay in the nursery and attempt to cure herself with the wallpaper than see him. John’s use of a threat as a way to force the narrator into recovery is also significant, demonstrating his lack of respect for the narrator.
Part 4 Analysis Gilman continues to develop the motif of sunlight and moonlight as the meaning of wallpaper becomes clearer. By moonlight, the narrator gains the strength to ask John to let her leave the house. Although her plea is unsuccessful, she does not burst into tears as she had during her previous attempt. John ends the discussion by asking the narrator if she trusts him. Significantly, the narrator does not respond and simply pretends to fall asleep. The pattern of the wallpaper also emerges most clearly by the light of the moon.
The narrator is able to identify the figure as a woman behind bars, an image that symbolizes the oppression of female domestication. Because wallpaper is stereotypically a floral, feminine fixture in rooms, the figure’s imprisonment behind the wallpaper highlights the expectations for women of the late 19th-century. Unlike men, women of the time were expected only to tend to the housework and the family – and rarely to leave freely for work as John does. The fact that the oppressive wallpaper is on the walls of the nursery is yet another symbol of the maternal duties that the female figure is expected to assume.
However, the narrator only grows subconsciously aware of this oppression at night, when the subconscious is allowed to roam. In the daytime, the figure in the wallpaper is just as repressed as she is: “By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still. ” John continues his condescending, infantilizing behavior toward his “little girl. ” He asserts that his authority as a physician should be enough to convince her that she is improving; if he says so, it must be true.
His refusal to discuss her intimations that she is mentally ill portends disaster. Yet, the narrator alludes to the possibility that John actually does notice her transformation. She ascribes his strange behavior to an interest in the wallpaper, but it is more likely that John is noticing the narrator’s slow loss of rationality. With that in mind, John’s indulgent behavior may simply be an attempt to calm the narrator and avoid any major conflicts. His reference to a “little trip of a few days” is particularly pertinent.
It is impossible to know if John is actually planning a short trip for the couple or if he is preparing the narrator for a visit with S. Weir Mitchell. The narrator’s prose style grows choppier and more paranoid. She fears that everyone else is trying to figure out the meaning of the wallpaper, particularly Jennie. When she comes upon Jennie touching the wallpaper, the narrator is overcome with rage and has to restrain herself in order not to frighten Jennie. Her final declaration demonstrates the extent of her obsession with the wallpaper: “nobody shall find it out but myself! ”