Metaphors in "The Veldt"
Author Ray Bradbury once said, "I am a metaphor machine." He oiled his machinery expertly in the short story "The Veldt," where the adult Hadleys ignore the emotional problems of their children Wendy and Peter, who are far more interested in their futuristic, shape-shifting nursery than in a normal home life. Bradbury's 1950 fantasy tale, an early literary prediction of virtual reality, uses metaphor to presage the present-day obsession with social media and the computer, at the expense of human-family interaction.
Happylife Houses and Horror
Bradbury's chilling tale exalts mechanization over humanity with the Hadley's "Happylife House ... which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep." The metaphor of "house as mother" is intensified in the nursery, whose walls "begin to purr and recede" into an African veldt, complete with lions feeding at a distance upon "some animal." The beasts then move so close that "the yellow of them was in your eyes." The Hadley adults begin to realize that "the house is wife and mother now," and the quite unmotherly nursery is a source of savagery.
Metaphor and Metamorphosis
Bradbury extends the nursery's metaphor into that of a godlike hunter, as it "caught the telepathic emanations" of the children and "created life to fill their every desire." The children become as obsessed with the nursery as cell phone addicts. Ultimately the veldt rules, as David enters the nursery and "stepped into Africa ... this bake-oven with murder in the heart." Bradbury links nursery toys to primal hatred and death, reflecting that Wendy and Peter, like most of humanity, are not too young for "death thoughts ... [at] two years old you were shooting people with cap pistols."
Wendy and Peter in Neverland
Steven Kagle called "The Veldt" a work "controlled by new standards of belief." Certainly, Bradbury wants it that way; his changeling youths, metaphors for the universal desire to escape into technological fantasy, force us to re-imagine our ideas of what children should be. Peter and Wendy, named right out of James M. Barrie, have found their Neverland, and Peter -- "a wise one for ten" -- sets the controls to permanent Africa so they can never grow up. The nursery mirrors their destructive, unfettered young ids.
Tea and No Sympathy
Bradbury saves his finest metaphor for last, as McClean enters the nursery after the adult Hadleys have been devoured by the all-too-real veldt lions. Africa is on permanent display, including the slaughtered parents, and Wendy offers McClean tea. An odd refreshment for Africa, the cup of tea is a metaphor for civilized society and amenities, now swallowed up in the veldt of chaotic disorder, where children destroy their parents with a thought.
Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.