You can read There Will Come Soft Rains here.
Ray Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains hits hard and deep, leaving the reader with a profound, indescribable discomfort.
The story is about a house and the family that no longer resides in it. It’s 2026, and everything within sight has been obliterated in a nuclear attack. Everything, save for this one house.
It’s a futuristic home, with walls that talk and robots that do household chores. It’s almost a living thing in itself, carrying on with its schedule as if the family it once served were still alive and present. It cooks food, prepares baths, and even reads nightly poems.
Not a single human comes anywhere near the home, however. It’s not even clear if humans still exist.
The family’s dog still lives, though not for long. It wanders into the empty home, checking the doors in search of family and food. It finds neither and dies in the parlor. Within a hour, the robots hauls its remains and incinerates them.
During the house’s usual evening poem, a tree crashes through the kitchen window, shattering a bottle of flammable cleaning solution all over the stove. And despite its best efforts, the house fails to put out the flames.
By the story’s end, the house is gone, with the exception of a single wall that continues to speak as the sun rises again.
There Will Come Soft Rains is so masterfully written, to the point where it’s difficult to wrap one’s brain around. It has a poignant, sobering effect that hangs overhead for the rest of the day.
Yet it’s surprising because this story doesn’t tread over any unexplored roads. Countless other stories touch on the same ideas: the end of humanity, nuclear destruction, an apocalyptic wasteland, and a futuristic, automated home.
How is Bradbury able to take these almost cliche elements and produce such an unexpected and powerful effect?
I believe Bradbury is only able to pull this off because he takes a commonly explored setting and situation and zeroes in on aspects that most other writers would consider to be secondary. They would focus on explaining the events leading up to this apocalypse. They would make efforts to tell the story in human terms, perhaps by telling it through the eyes of a hardened survivor. They might create a sympathetic link by describing in detail the family that once lived in the home.
Instead, Bradbury omits all of those elements entirely. He clears everything out to give his story a sense of futile nothingness. There is nothing remotely human in the story. The only thing that comes close is the talking, automated home that carries on with its schedule as if nothing had happened, which is perhaps the least human reaction to the situation.
The reader can’t help but try and humanize this house. It’s hard not to. The house does talk, after all. This makes the story all the more disturbing because it’s akin to watching someone experience utter tragedy and go on futilely, denying reality to protect themselves.
It’s pathetic. Pitiful.
“It doesn’t matter,” the story seems to say. “You don’t matter. I don’t matter. Whether we live or not, we are all tiny and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.”
There Will Come Soft Rains is a dark one. It isn’t easy to digest. It leaves the reader in a dark mood, but does it in an almost enlightening way, as if exposing a part of the human heart that had long been forgotten.
There’s a lot to take away from this, in terms of writing/storytelling techniques. Two in particular stand out:
- Sometimes, the best way to capitalize on an interesting setting or situation is to explain nothing at all.
- No story exists in a vacuum. Within, without, before, and after every story is another story. It doesn’t matter how many of these stories the writer tells. It does matter that the writer conveys this sense of continuity.