Essay: Ray Bradbury on the Dichotomy of Humanity

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  • Ray Bradbury on the Dichotomy of Humanity
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Ray Bradbury on the Dichotomy of Humanity

Ray Bradbury’s creative endeavors over the past fifty years have landed him a spot among “Science Fiction’s Greatest Living Writers”; however, Bradbury himself has been hesitant to embrace the title for decades. Indeed, Bradbury’s literary career has not come without a plethora of misunderstandings; although hailed by readers as one of America’s most eminent science-fiction writers, several of Bradbury’s critics adamantly insist that he is a traitor to the profession because he distrusts and fears science. Perhaps, Bradbury has resisted the title for so long because his definition of science fiction as a “fable teacher of morality” and as “morality cloaked in symbol and allegory” is rather unconventional among writers, readers, and critics of the literary genre. Growing up during the 1920s-30s, Bradbury witnessed the growing popularity of technology and quickly became engrossed in a world of toys, or rather metaphors as he imagined them. Ever since, Bradbury has captivated readers with not only vivid depictions of possible and impossible futures, but more importantly, with an underlying truth that transcends the barriers of time and space for all of humanity.
Although Ray Bradbury’s far-reaching imagination has marveled with a myriad of themes and ideas, ubiquitous in Bradbury’s works is the far more philosophical theme of the dichotomy of human nature. Through frequent use of metaphors and symbolism, Bradbury explores the puzzling and divisive nature of man and ultimately reveals that his innate duality is, in fact, pivotal to his identity. Bradbury does so in order to criticize the futility of man’s attempt to rid himself of evil as well as emphasize the importance of maintaining control over the dichotomy inherent in all of us.
Bradbury certainly uses his literature to provide portals into distant worlds and galaxies, giving readers a look into possible futures of science and technology. However, a closer observation reveals that the theme of man’s innate and universal duality is what truly lies at the forefront of his literature. Through his portrayal of seemingly ordinary characters displaying their innate evilness, Bradbury highlights that all men are born with and will die with an ever-present internal conflict between good and evil.
In “The Veldt”, George and Lydia Hadley install a ‘nursery’ in their house which depicts realistic projections of their children’s imagined fantasies. Although originally intended as a way for their children to indulge their imagination and safely entertain their thoughts, the nursery brings to life the children’s morbid preoccupation with the death of their parents. Although originally “filled with admiration for the mechanical genius who had conceived this room” (8), George Hadley’s fascination soon turns to concern upon discovering that his children, Peter and Wendy, have been using the nursery to conjure up gruesome visions of an African veldt filled with bloodthirsty lions. George later admits that “They were awfully young, Wendy and Peter, for death thoughts. Or, no, you were never too young, really. Long before you knew what death was you were wishing it on someone else.” (10)
While the short story seems to be primarily focused on potential for creation or destruction wrought by technology, namely the nursery, it is far more concerned with the children’s attraction to and infatuation with evil. Despite the fact that they had just murdered their parents in cold blood, Peter and Wendy appear terribly untroubled in the end of the story, perhaps because they know they are finally free from the restrictions of their parents. By divulging the secret thoughts of death harbored by two very young children, Bradbury reveals that evil is inherent in man from birth, long before he is able to understand its implications or control this part of his duality. Because Bradbury has carefully crafted the Hadleys to resemble a generic family, he is also able to illustrate the universality of duality: all humans possess, and at times are possessed by, an internal conflict between good and evil.
Lahna Diskin finds notable significance in the innate evilness displayed by the young children in “The Veldt”, arguing that “‘Though only 10 years old, Wendy and Peter Hadley know that their parents are a mortal threat to the real and imaginary geographies which they can project in their electronically cosmic nursery.” (152) Rather than using the nursery to innocently entertain their curiosity, Diskin believes that Peter and Wendy Hadley consciously conjure up such gruesome scenes with the deliberate goal of having their parents killed. Diskin supports Bradbury’s claim that duality is innate and universal by highlighting that despite their youth, Peter and Wendy possess the capacity for evil. However, possessing evil thoughts or desires does not make us inherently evil because, as Bradbury has emphasized, none of us are exempt from these thoughts. It is when we consciously use our power or knowledge for destruction that we allow ourselves to become possessed by the evil within us.
In another short story, “Zero Hour”, 7-year old Mink and her friends appear to be innocently engrossed in their new game, Invasion, but are in fact involved in a plot to annihilate the grown-ups with the help of an extraterrestrial invader. Although the parents are left with clear warning signs of their impending doom, they refuse to take the behavior of their children seriously. Bradbury criticizes this parental ignorance not only to warn of its deadly consequences, but to emphasize the necessity of maintaining control over our inherent duality. If not carefully controlled, thoughts of evil can quickly manifest into deadly situations. By depicting seemingly normal children who act upon their desire for evil, Bradbury reiterates that the opposing forces of good and evil are not only ever-present, but existent in man from birth. By suggesting that the children’s seemingly innocent act of destruction are in fact purposeful acts of evil, Bradbury also reveals a pivotal observation of human nature: rather than being an acquired characteristic, duality is an inescapable trait of all men.
In “The Town Where No One Got Off”, a passenger on a train decides to get off at an unknown stop where he finds an old man to be waiting for him. When each man learns that he is the victim of the other’s murder plot, the fear of death causes each of them to walk away. In an exchange between the two men, the old man remarks “We all do. It’s normal enough to hate, ain’t it, and not only hate but, while we don’t talk about it, don’t we sometimes want to hit people who hurt us, even kill them? … everybody’d like to do one killin’ in his life, to sort of work off that big load of stuff, all those killin’s in his mind he never did have the guts to do.” (55)
Because Bradbury does not develop the two men into dynamic and nuanced characters, they are able to serve as a representation of the ‘common man’. In doing so, Bradbury unmasks the inherent nature of duality and illustrates that no man is exempt from the allure of evil despite his or society’s greatest attempts to suppress it. Although both men in the story yearn to evade their sinful desires, they both come to the realization that simply disregarding thoughts of evil does not get rid of them. A lifetime of repressed anger and hatred has evidently manifested into the fervent desire to kill, rendering it nearly impossible for both men to overcome these desires with acts of ‘good’. However, Bradbury’s true purpose in narrating this short story is to emphasize that humans are incapable of suppressing their basest desires for evil, and just as the two men make the decision to walk away from each other, we must control our duality not by ignoring, but by conquering our innate evilness with good deeds.

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