Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” is the science fiction writer’s most widely anthologized short story. Originally printed in Collier’s, “Soft Rains” was revised and incorporated as a chapter in Bradbury’s first and most acclaimed novel, The Martian Chronicles. The Martian Chronicles depicts the colonization of Mars by humans. “There Will Come Soft Rains” is the second-to-last chapter of the novel, and it depicts the destruction of an automated house by an accidental fire. The family who inhabited the house have died in a nuclear war, and the house is the only structure left in Allendale, California. “Soft Rains,” in both its stand-alone and book chapter forms, is a commentary on the relationship between technological advance and societal change.
When considered on its own, “Soft Rains” is a warning. The house is modeled after concept homes that showed society’s expectations of technological advancement. Bradbury, who is a proponent of space exploration and technological progress, satirizes these concept homes by showing their implications. The house cooks meals, cleans messes, and wards off intruders—all for a family whose disintegration is memorialized by paint silhouettes on the house’s otherwise charred west face. The absence of the family shows how the automated house is an example of technology gone too far because it replaces the most human aspects of life. Perhaps the most striking examples of this replacement are found in the house’s suggestions for entertainment—it produces bridge tables and reads poetry. In “Soft Rains,” technology has supplanted diversion and art. In a similar fashion, the nuclear weapons that decimated the surrounding landscape supplanted, by their use, human diplomacy. Just as the house’s family did not wish to work hard at making their house a suitable home, world powers did not want to work out the problems among them.
The subservience to technology depicted in “Soft Rains” is expanded to a pervasive, self-destructive way of life in the rest of The Martian Chronicles. Critics have noted that “Soft Rains” is the most cynical portrayal of technology in the novel. It is significant, therefore, that “Soft Rains” forms, with the chapter following it, the novel’s falling action. Throughout The Martian Chronicles, humanity is unwilling to recognize that its technological advancement has far outstripped its societal advancement. In “Way in the Middle of the Air,” all the blacks in the South depart for Mars to escape the oppression they suffered until late in the 20th century. In “Usher II,” the government censors fantastic stories, though it allows unchecked technological advancement. And throughout the novel, humans destroy the native Martian civilization. Indeed, only one encounter between the two species, in “Night Meeting,” ends without any Martian or human fatalities.
In this framework, the outcome in “Soft Rains” is perhaps best understood as an inevitable end to the worst aspects of humanity. The house burns because, despite its vigilance against intruders, a tree branch crashes through the kitchen window and knocks a bottle of cleaning solvent onto the oven. The house’s destruction is then framed as a death, and the description of its battle against the fire is replete with references to living things such as “mice” that spray water and “snakes” of flame-retardant chemicals. The house is depicted in this way because it represents both humanity and humanity’s failure to save itself. This connection is solidified by the house’s recitation, before its demise, of a Sara Teasdale poem that provides the title for “Soft Rains.” The poem cynically predicts that nature will not notice when humanity has destroyed itself by war. The destruction of the house by the forces of nature—storms, trees, fire—shows that humanity’s self-destruction is the result of a blind obsession with technological advancement.
Moreover, the destruction of the house is parallel to a scene in the next and final chapter of the novel, “The Million-Year Picnic.” In this chapter, a family evacuates from the house to the Earth to escape the final salvos in a nuclear war that destroys human civilization. The father burns stock certificates, war journals, and a map of the Earth and states that he is burning “a way of life” that led to the destruction of human civilization. Because the house in “Soft Rains” is part of this “way of life,” it, too, is destroyed. Bradbury seems to say that both the house in “Soft Rains” and the detritus of human existence in “The Million-Year Picnic”—and the ideas they represent— must be destroyed for humanity to survive and prosper.
Bradbury, Ray. “Mars: Too Soon from the Cave, Too Far from the Stars.” In Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon from the Cave, Too Far from the Stars. New York: HarperCollins William Morrow, 2000.
———. The Martian Chronicles. New York: Bantam-Spectra, 1979.
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Eller, Jonathon. “The Body Eclectic: Sources of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles.” University of Mississippi Studies in English 11–12 (1993–1995): 376–410.
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Reid, Robin Anne. “The Martian Chronicles (1950).” In Ray Bradbury: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2000.