52 pages 1 hour read

Ray Bradbury

There Will Come Soft Rains

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1950

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Summary and Study Guide

Summary: “There Will Come Soft Rains”

Published in 1950, “There Will Come Soft Rains” is among Ray Bradbury’s most well-known short stories. Bradbury is one of the 20th century’s most recognizable American authors, and his work helped propel science fiction and speculative fiction into mainstream literature. “There Will Come Soft Rains” contains themes of scientific advancement, nuclear proliferation, and mid-20th-century American domestic life.

Originally published in Collier’s Magazine in May 1950, “There Will Come Soft Rains” was published later that year as a chapter in Bradbury’s novel The Martian Chronicles. This guide refers to the version published in The Martian Chronicles (Harper Perennial Modern Classics Kindle e-book edition, 2011).

Bradbury wrote his most famous works in the middle of the 20th century at the beginning of the nuclear arms race. Many of his stories feature the dangers of scientific progress as a central theme. “There Will Come Soft Rains” describes the operation of a robot-filled, automated house that continues to function after its human inhabitants are killed in an apparent nuclear explosion. 

The story opens by describing a living room. An electronic “voice-clock” announces that it is 7:00 a.m. (248), time for the residents of the house to get up. Nine minutes later, the voice announces it is time for breakfast.

The house has no human inhabitants to hear these messages. The narrator notes early in this opening scene that the house is “empty” (248), and the voice announces that it is time to get up “almost as if it is afraid that nobody would” (248).

As the story continues, the daily routine of the house unfolds. A voice in the kitchen announces the date with a list of reminders, while an automated stove cooks four full breakfasts of eggs, bacon, and toast. The voice in the kitchen also gives the setting: August 4, 2057, in Allendale, California.

Every function of domestic life appears to be automated, and the house is full of activity even though there are no human inhabitants. On the porch, a weather box complains about the rain while the garage opens its own door. The kitchen cleans itself after no one eats the meal it prepared in the opening scene, and robotic mice come out of the walls to remove dust.

The story moves outside, and the narrator reveals that this is the only remaining house “in a city of rubble and ashes” (249). The city glows at night due to radiation. The implied nuclear explosion that destroyed the city has spared the house, but its west wall, once painted white, is now charred “completely black, save for five places” (249). These five spots are the silhouettes of the house’s former inhabitants and their final actions: a man mowing a lawn, a woman gathering flowers, and two children—one boy and one girl—playing catch with a ball. The ball is the fifth silhouette.

Although its inhabitants are dead, the house defends itself from wild animals including foxes and cats. One exception is a dog that comes to the front porch. The house recognizes the dog’s whine and allows it to come inside, implying that the dog once belonged to the family. It tracks mud through the house, and the mess it creates is immediately cleaned by the robotic mice, though the narrator notes that they are “angry at the inconvenience” (250). The dog runs frantically through the house, works itself into a frenzy at the smell of food outside the kitchen door, and dies. Eventually, the robotic mice come out again to clean up the dog’s remains.

Throughout the story, the disembodied voices of the house continue to track the progress of time. At 4:30 p.m., the narrative moves to a children’s nursery in which the “walls lived.” Along with robotic insects crawling along the floor, the walls display creatures like antelopes, lions and giraffes “cavorting in crystal substance” (251). The nursery is filled with the sounds of the jungle.

At night, the house begins its end-of-the-day routine. It fills a bath, lights a cigar, and warms the former inhabitants’ beds. It also asks “Mrs. McClellan” which poem she would like to hear, choosing a poem at random when it is greeted only by silence. This poem is Sara Teasdale’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” which describes an Earth without people in idyllic terms, saying “No one would mind, neither bird nor tree, /If mankind perished utterly” (253).

There is no reply. The final sequence begins at 10:00 p.m., when “the house began to die” (253). A tree bough falls through the kitchen window, starting a fire when it spills cleaning solvent onto the stove. The house recognizes that it is on fire and tries “to save itself” (253). Doors close tight, and robotic rats from the walls shoot water at the flames. The fire spreads quickly, destroying furniture and works of art, but the house defends itself. The fire is almost driven back when “blind robotic faces” with “faucet mouths gushing green chemical” appear from the attic to join the robotic rats in dousing the flames. However, there is an explosion in the attic.

The fire consumes the house one room at a time, and the machine voices begin to go silent. As the house is destroyed, its automated inhabitants almost seem to panic in a scene of “maniac confusion” (254). Finally, with a crash, the house collapses. One wall remains, and a voice inside it continues to repeat the date—now August 5, 2057—over and over again.