No excess.

The Stories of Ray Bradbury

The Stories of Ray Bradbury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever read “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury? It’s a brilliant short story (a classic of science fiction literature, in my non-expert opinion) that takes place in a dystopic future in which a family lives in a home that is not only self sustaining but also completely fulfills the needs of it’s inhabitants. It’s a Happy-life Home!

In addition to cooking and cleaning, the house makes sure its tenants are comfortable and entertained as well. It’s completely climate controlled and has been retrofitted with a super fancy nursery for the happy couple’s two mischievous rugrats. What is exceptional about this nursery is that it has the ability to simulate whatever environment the user wishes.

Essentially they have the holodeck from Star Trek as a room in their house.

Now these kids are spoiled little shits. They are developing anti-social behaviors and don’t react well to “no”. And they have genius IQs to boot.The parents are upper middle class and privileged, though they do have a sense of guilt about it and what their opulent lifestyle is doing to their children’s developing psyches.

This is when things get weird(er). Mom thinks a shrink should come check out the nursery because something fucked up is going down in there and it’s got her freaked out. There is Africa in the nursery. Nature at it’s worst. These children hadn’t conjured images of island beaches or Lewis Carol’s Wonderland, but oppressive heat, sulking lions, hovering vultures, and the faint smell of death. Believing mom is just having woman’s hysterics (this story was written in 1951), dad goes to the nursery to take a look for himself.

Indeed, he passes the threshold of the nursery and is transported to Africa. Though he knows that it is an illusion created by the house, it seems scarily real; he can smell the gaminess of the animals and hear them eating. What really freaks dad out is an old wallet that looked like it had been chewed on by beasts. It had belonged it him. Things get too real when one of the lions lunges at him and he runs like hell and bolts the door behind him.

The parents meet with a shrink. They show him the nursery, which is still projecting a simulation of the African veldt all around them. The doc analyzes the scene. He correctly guesses that the children are over indulged and disappointed by their parents. He concludes that the children are using the nursery to act out their violent fantasies. Dad admits that he didn’t let the kids go on a field trip to New York and in his concern for the kids behavior, has become more of a disciplinarian. The doctor breaks it down for the desperate parents.

Where they had a Santa Claus now they have a Scrooge. Children prefer Santa. You’ve let this room and house replace you and your wife in your children’s affections. This room is their mother and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents. And now you’ve come to shut it off. No wonder there’s hatred here.

Deciding the the house has made the family lazy and spoiled, the parents decide they will turn the Happy-Life Home off for a while. Brush their own teeth, cook, make their beds and what not. They would take a vacation. The little demons do not take the news well. They throw a hysterical tantrum before convincing their parents to come enjoy the nursery one last time. Mom and dad see no harm in it and go to the nursery to join the children only to find the nursery empty. Expect for that eerily realistic veldt scene and it’s lions…

A family friend comes to take them all to the airport only to find the children sitting alone, drinking tea, the sound of their parents screaming in the distance.

There are so many facets of this story that fascinate me and I could analyze them all, but since I am responding to a writing prompt, “The Veldt” is an interesting look at the culture of excess and the psychological toll it takes. Not only on individuals, but culturally, and socially. The family in the story had integrated into their lives a piece of technology that ensures physical comfort and contentment. They don’t need to prepare meals, do their laundry, or even bathe themselves. Their Happy-life Home maintains perfect homeostasis. Without meals to plan or chores to do, the parents feel useless. The house even entertains the children for them, with it’s state of the art virtual reality nursery.

Maybe I don’t have enough to do. Maybe I have time to think too much[…] I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is  wife and mother and nursemaid.

The sentiment is not unfounded, as the children’s view of their parent’s existence expresses itself through the nursery, foreshadowed to by the discovery of the wallet in the virtual Africa. The children had also been harboring rage towards the parents for keeping them from getting something they wanted- at trip to New York. That incident made these too-smart-for-their-own-good kids realize that Happy-life Home provided everything they needed. They had never need disciplined before. Parents had only existed to provide.

We’ve given the children everything the ever wanted. Is this our reward-secrecy and disobedience?”

Who was is said, “Children are carpets, they should be stepped on occasionally”? We’ve never lifted a hand. They’re insufferable-let’s admit it. They come and go when they like; they treat us as if we were offspring. There’re spoiled and we’re spoiled.

In a way, the children and the home were dependent on each other. Bradbury leaves it up to the reader to decide whether the house is sentient and can make the projections in the nursery a reality. If this is so, killing the parents would allow the house to remain plugged in and thus “live”, validating the mother’s fears that she is purposeless.

But the parents became coddled to the point of uselessness by their own want for comfort and pleasure. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on technological upgrades to a house that took care of all their base needs, indulged every want of their children and never disciplined them. They literally gave their children everything and when the children’s ability to live excessively privileged lives was threatened, they removed the threat.

“Perhaps too much of everything is as bad as too little.” – Edna Ferber


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