Higher Critical Essay 2002
Short story exemplar "The Veldt"
Task: Choose a short story with a dramatic or shocking ending.
Show how the writer creates the effect and discuss to what extent it added to your appreciation of the text as a whole.
In your answer you must refer to at least two of: structure, theme, language, characterisation, or any other appropriate feature.
Ray Bradbury's futuristic short story "TheVeldt" is in my opinion a perfect example of a short story with a shocking ending. Set in a believable future it depicts a day in the life of the Hadleys; father George, mother Lydia and ten year old twins Peter and Wendy. "Their soundproofed Happy-Life Home", which cost $30,000, has a nursery, capable of creating real life scenes from the children's imagination.
However, rather than being a benefit to free the children from neuroses, the nursery is now firmly fixed on the African veldt and under the children's control. Here the lions rule, with "their terrible green-yellow eyes." Too late the parents realise their mistake in spoiling their children and they want to switch off the nursery. At this point the children shockingly prove they love the nursery more then their parents, whom they trick there to be killed then eaten by the lions.
In my opinion the structure of the story develops a strong sense of doom and foreboding from the very start. On his return from work, George is asked by Lydia to contact a psychologist to look at the nursery. Instinctively she realises it is "different now" and fears that Peter "with that LQ. of his" has programmed it to remain in the baking heat of the African veldt. Symbolically only adults seem physically uncomfortable in this landscape and our attention is drawn to George's "sweating face" here, which foreshadows how McClean, the psychologist, will also begin to perspire there at the end.
Bradbury cleverly builds up this sense of something not quite right by a variety of techniques. He focuses on the colour yellow for the sun and the colour of the lions . The hidden "odorophonics" in the nursery let us imagine the smell of the fresh meat coming from "the panting, dripping mouths of the lions". Vultures cast shadows on the landscape, both literally and metaphorically, a device which is used to great effect both at the start and the end of the story to create its circular structure. These are obviously associated with death, normally of animals, but at the shocking end of the story the deaths are those of George and Lydia.
Another interesting technique used by Bradbury is the recurring scream heard by the Hadleys and coming from the nursery. These screams are heard on two occasions, followed by the roar of the lions. The third time George says of the screams, "they sound familiar" but he can't think why. Only once both parents have been locked into the nursery by their children do the parents realise it was their own voices they had heard in advance of being attacked by the lions.
As well as the motif of these screams, Bradbury also introduces real, personal objects of the parents into the nursery. The first is an old wallet of George's, now chewed "with blood smears on both sides". He is shocked by this but more alarmed by
McClean finding "a bloody scarf' of Lydia's in the nursery. It is this discovery which prompts both men to throw "the switch that killed the nursery".
The language used here exemplifies Bradbury's fear for the future of mankind if machines take over. :His new word "automaticity" sums this up. In their ironically named "Happy-life Home" the Hadleys do nothing. Machines cook, clean, wash, clean their teeth, shine their shoes, take them up stairs and even rock them to sleep. When ketchup is not on the dining table "a small voice within the table" apologises and it appears. The results of such a life of ease and luxury are apparent. Lydia is bored and very importantly realises that "The house is wife and mother and house maid." She knows she cannot compete with an African veldt. George is smoking and drinking too much and needs more sedative each night to help him sleep.
Alarmingly only the children seem content in their own "Never Never Land". Symbolically Bradbury names them Peter and Wendy, main characters in J.M.Barry's "Peter Pan", who lived in a land free from adult control where they never grew up. On the surface these children seem innocent and beautiful with their "cheeks like peppermint candy" and "eyes like bright blue agate" but in reality they are spoiled and manipulative, the clear result of getting everything they want apart from a "rocket trip to New York".
Ironically and too late, George realises that "children are carpets, they should be stepped on occasionally" and decides to turn off the nursery. Both children are upset but Peter's choice of language coupled with his body language is most revealing. He avoids all eye contact with his father and ultimately threatens him not to turn off the nursery. He seems to be speaking to the nursery directly as to a person, as it has now become both mother and father to the children. Normal parent - child relationships have been replaced by mechanism and wish fulfilment.
Indeed it is this wish fulfilment that concludes the story. Peter shouts at his father 'Oh, I hate you! ... I wish you were dead!" and so it comes to pass.
At the end the children symbolically eat a "picnic lunch" in the "open glade" of the veldt. All appears innocent and childlike. Only the sweating reaction of the • psychologist when he comes in to look for George and Lydia reminds us of the harsh truth of this brutal murder. Wendy is already replacing her mother as she offers a cup of tea but overhead vultures are "dropping down a blazing sky."
In conclusion, I believe Bradbury has created both a dramatic and a shocking ending to the "The Veldt." Beyond this, he has allowed us into his worrying vision of how our obsession with automation and artificial intelligence may end.