In "The Veldt," George and Lydia Hadley are the parents of Wendy and Peter Hadley, and they live in a technologically driven house that will do everything for its inhabitants - transport you upstairs, brush your teeth, cook the food, and clean the house. The story begins when Lydia asks George if he's noticed anything wrong with the nursery, the most expensive and exciting room of the house. The glass walls have the ability to project the landscape and environment of any place that the mind of the visitor wishes. During this particular visit, George and Lydia are surrounded by the African countryside. In the distance, lions are licking the bones of their prey clean. The images are so startlingly lifelike that when the holographic lions begin to charge, George and Lydia run for the door to escape.
Outside of the nursery, Lydia comments that she heard screams coming from the room earlier in the day, but George tries to ease her worries. He wants to believe that the children are psychologically healthy, not that they are fixated on blood and violence. After all, one of the selling points of the room was that the children would be able to use the room as an outlet for their emotions, and the places that the room visited would provide information for the adults who were curious about the young minds. Lydia senses that something dark is brooding in her children's brain. As they sit down to dinner, which is all provided through the house's technology, George suggests shutting down the house and living in a simpler manner, something he has suggested before and used as a punishment for his children. Lydia is thrilled by the idea because she feels as if she has been replaced for the house. The house is the mother, wife, and homemaker that she once was, and she feels purposeless.
George visits the room again for further observation, and he attempts to change the scenery to Aladdin. Alas, nothing changes, and he begins to think that his children have maintained control over the environment, furthering his concern that his children have an unhealthy obsession with the veldt. When they arrived home from a carnival, he decided to ask them about the persistence of the savannah, but they tried to deny it. Wendy goes into the room to inspect it, and when she returns she reports that it is no longer Africa, but rather woodland. George and Lydia are highly skeptical, and they believe that Wendy entered the room and changed it after they returned from the fair. One of the clues that make George believe the room was altered was his wallet on the floor of the nursery, smelling of hot grass and showing teeth marks.
As George and Lydia go to bed, they decide to call David McClean and have him come over to inspect the nursery. The sounds of screams travel from downstairs - Wendy and Peter have left their bedrooms and gone back to the nursery. Lydia comments, "Those screams - they sound familiar." At the end of the story, they will find out why they sound so familiar. The next morning, Peter questions his father about the future of the nursery. "You aren't going to lock up the nursery for good, are you?" asked Peter. George explains that they were thinking of shutting the house down for a while and living in a more traditional manner, and Peter responds poorly. Peter vaguely threatens his father and stomps off.
When David McClean inspects the room, he admits that it gives him a bad feeling. George presses him for more concrete facts, but David can only offer him his intuition. He says to George, "This doesn't feel good, I tell you. Trust my hunches and my instincts. I have a nose for something bad. This is very bad. My advice to you is to have the whole damn room torn down and your children brought to me every day during the next year for treatment." Why, exactly, are things so dire? The children are furious with their parents and the idea of the nursery being taken away. McClean tells George that the house has replaced him and his wife, and now the house is far more important than their biological parents. McClean believes that there is "real hatred" in the scenes of the nursery, and George decides to turn it off instantly. As they leave, McClean picks something up on the ground - Lydia's scarf. It's bloody.
George told his children that the nursery would be turned off, as well as the rest of the house. They began screaming and throwing a hysterical fit. They begged for more time in the nursery, and Lydia suggested that turning it off so suddenly was not a good idea. At first George resisted the idea of turning it back on, but eventually he relented and allowed the children a little bit more time. George and Lydia went upstairs to get ready for the vacation while the children played in the nursery one final time.
From their bedroom, George and Lydia’s children call them to quickly come downstairs. They ran downstairs but didn't see their children anywhere. When they couldn't find them, they looked for them in the nursery. The savannah and the lions had returned to the nursery, and the door slammed behind them. They called for Wendy and Peter, but they had locked the door from the outside. They beat against the door but no one opened them, and the lions began to surround them and move closer. Mr. and Mrs. Hadley screamed, and suddenly they realized why the screams sounded so familiar. David McClean arrived shortly after to greet everyone, but he did not see George and Lydia. The children sat and ate lunch in the nursery, looking out on the water hole and the lions feasting in the distance. "Where are your father and mother?" asked David, and Wendy simply responded, "Oh, they'll be here directly." As they watch the vultures swoop down, Wendy asks, "A cup of tea?" and the story ends.
In this dark and troubling story, Bradbury writes a precautionary tale of the advance of technology and the importance of maintaining communication during these technological advances. In the Hadley's "Happy-life Home," the house fulfills all of their needs and desires. While at first this was a major advantage to the Hadley's and a primary reason for the desirability of the home, it has now become a point of stress rather than happiness. Both parents struggle to find fulfillment in their everyday life because the house has replaced their traditional roles as mother and father. At different points in the story, both parents contemplate going back to a "normal" house even though it would mean extra work and tasks for them everyday.
Bradbury juxtaposes the advance of technology with the decline in interpersonal communication. The Hadley children, Wendy and Peter, are both manipulative and stubborn. They fail to have any positive communications with their parents during the story. Many of their interactions end in a thinly veiled threat or a strategically placed crying session in order to secure what they want. While this may not be entirely uncommon behavior of children, the parents are unable to respond appropriately to their children. Stripped of their parenting duties, they have forgotten how to communicate with their children. In every interaction between parents and children, the children receive what they want. These negative interactions emphasize the importance of inter-family communications.
George and Lydia attribute their lack of an ability to communicate with their children to the house's automation, but this brings to light the idea that parenting is more than simply providing your child with everything he or she would like. The Hadley's believed that this would solve their problems, but it has only caused more problems. The house that provides everything has rendered them unnecessary and inconvenient. Somehow, the Hadley's must find a way to reassert themselves in their children's eyes and provide them with a form of support that is not possible to receive from the house.
As George and Lydia struggle to find their identity as parents, they are simultaneously struggling with their personal identities. Lydia confesses to George that she would much rather turn the house "off" and go back to giving the children baths, cooking dinner, and doing the laundry. Lydia's concern for finding a purpose highlights a broader human concern to find importance in your daily tasks and the need to think that you are making progress and contributing to society. This basic need does not cease with the advent of automation and technology, according to Bradbury.
Finally, the science of psychology plays a major role in the story. It is revealed that the original purpose of the nursery was to study the minds of children, for what they left on the wall would provide a glimpse into the inner workings of their minds. Even though George and Lydia have hunches that something is wrong with the never changing African veldt, it is not until psychologist David McClean arrives that they know for sure that something is seriously wrong. He insists that the house be shut down immediately and the children start psychological treatment as soon as possible. Bradbury positions psychology as a possible treatment for the children's dire state.
Dreadful with a Pinch of Irony
When you start reading a story where the first conversation is about something vaguely wrong, you might feel a little… anxious. (Unless the people are clowns discussing something wrong with their tiny car.) We'll be honest, the minute we started reading "The Veldt," we felt dread. This story gives us nightmares.
Yep, from paragraph one, we know that something is wrong, and it only gets worse from there. All the time, the Hadleys can hear screams that sound eerily familiar to Lydia. The lions are always eating and vultures are always flying. The sun causes the adults to start sweating almost immediately. Check it out: the fake sun comes out in paragraph 13 and by paragraph 14, George Hadley is perspiring; and when David McClean comes back to get the family (after the parents have been killed), as soon as he walks into the nursery, "He began to perspire" (264). The gadgets are malfunctioning and not listening to commands, especially the nursery. The lesson here is that the Happylife Home is not all it's cracked up to be.
In fact, it doesn't even work properly. Just take a look at this scene, when George Hadley goes to Africa and tries to command it:
"Go away," he said to the lions.
They did not go.
He knew the principle of the room exactly. You sent out your thoughts. Whatever you thought would appear.
"Let's have Aladdin and his lamp," he snapped.
The veldtland remained; the lions remained.
"Come on, room! I demand Aladdin!" he said.
Nothing happened. (74-80)
That one-two structure of (1) George commanding ("Go away") and (2) nothing happening ("They did not go") tells us right off the bat that things are not as they should be. The dude is yelling at his room, for crying out loud. And not only is he yelling at his room, the room isn't responding. The nerve!
Once we're reminded by the phrase "he knew the principle of the room exactly" that the room is supposed to respond the George's thoughts, the fact that the room is rebelling is even more horrifying. Once we hear that, and realize that George still can't make the room change, we know something is really, really wrong. Plus, the fact that George keeps trying to do something that clearly isn't working might make us feel a little worried about his sanity as well.
To be fair, the story isn't out-and-out horrifying all the way through. The screams are familiar to Lydia, but we never hear why until the end. The lions are always eating—but what, we're not sure. Bradbury keeps a little distance here so that the story doesn't scare us with blood like Saw. Instead, it makes us nervous like Paranormal Activity.
This story uses more of a slow burn when it comes to the terror. For instance, after George fails to make the nursery obey his commands, he doesn't freak out and destroy the room because it's evil and creepy. No, the guy just goes back to Lydia and tells her that it's "out of order" (82), as if it were just a vending machine or a public toilet. See, there's something wrong, but George remains calm and there's always a logical explanation for everything. So, there's no reason to worry, right?
But we'd leave the light on, because we're worried. We're very worried. And that's dread.
A Pinch of Irony
Irony isn't always funny. And in "The Veldt," irony overlaps with the dread, which is not something you see every day. What do we mean, exactly? Let's take a look.
You might expect a nursery to be a safe place where children are nurtured, right? Instead, the nursery is the most dangerous room in the house. In other words, Bradbury sometimes flips our expectations—and usually flips them so we see the dark side of things. That's irony.
Or take, for example, the similarities that "The Veldt" shares with the Peter Pan story. Except, in Peter Pan, the kids are reunited with their parents (hooray!), but in "The Veldt," not only are they separated from their parents forever, the twins are the agents of that separation (the opposite of hooray!).
To close, we'll just say this: you know movies where kids do outrageously grown-up things and it's cute? Well, Peter says unexpectedly grown-up things. But it's not cute. Nope, not cute at all. Instead, he utters creepy threats that make our spines tingle—things like, "I don't think you'd better consider it any more, Father" (171). That doesn't sound like a kid. That sounds like an axe murderer. And that, in a nutshell, is Bradbury's dreadful irony.