The story begins with a house beginning to stir and wake up - but not in the traditional sense. The house lacks human voices and noises. Instead, the house is automated, calling out to its supposed inhabitants the time of day and their upcoming activities. The house's voice is clearly meant for someone, but no one is present to listen. The house is the only house left standing in the surrounding area. It is completely encapsulated by rubble and destruction.
Even though it appears that no one is currently living in the house, the house's automated system continues as if nothing has changed. The breakfast stove cooks the typical breakfast: eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, and milk. The weather box continues to give the weather and clothing suggestions. This continued vigilance and activity had saved the house from destruction in the past. It carefully asked for the password if anything approached the house, such as foxes or cats, and it shut the windows and drew the shades if a bird flew near the house. It was almost as if the house was paranoid, but it worked until this day.
A dog entered the house because the house recognized its voice. Once "huge and fleshy," the dog is now "gone to bone and covered with sores" (2). The dogs appearance indicates that something drastic has happened to the house's former inhabitants, and the dog goes from door to door of the house looking for its family, but it finds no one. The dog becomes frantic and begins to froth at the mouth, eventually collapsing. When the dog dies and begins to decay, the house's cleaning mice sense it and go into the room to remove the dog. He is deposited into the incinerator in the cellar.
Despite this unusual event, the house once again continues as usual. It prepares lunch, sets up tables and chairs for bridge, and the nursery readies itself for children's hour. As the house prepares itself for night and sleeping, it asks Mrs. McClellan, "Which poem would you like this evening?" (4.) Of course, no one responds. The computer chooses a poem at random and begins:
"There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone" (4).
Soon after finishing the poem, the house begins to die. A fire erupts and begins to take over the house despite its best efforts to contain the fire. As the house collapsed into itself, the rubble still managed to speak, "Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is..." (6). The people are gone; the house is nearly gone; yet the automation somehow continues.
"There Will Come Soft Rains" is titled after the randomly selected poem read by the house, which is an actual poem by Sara Teasdale. The poem communicates the idea that nature will outlast humanity and thrive once man's civilizations have been destroyed. The choice of the poem is ironic considering that the house's family has been destroyed. Their silhouettes were burned into the side of the house after the nuclear explosion.
The publication date of this story, May 6, 1950, is temporally significant as well. The nuclear bombings or Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place in August 1945, just five years prior to Bradbury's story's publication date. There are allusions to this event in both the overall themes of the story as well as in the details of the story. As mentioned before, a silhouette of each family member was burned into the side of the house, which commonly occurred in Japan after individuals were vaporized by the atomic bomb. The bombings or Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still seared in the public's memory, and Bradbury draws upon this common knowledge base in this story.
Not only is there irony in the house's selection of the poem, "There Will Come Soft Rains," but there is irony in the story as well. Even though nature and the automated house are able to continue for some time, the house eventually crumbles into rubble and can no longer function. Even though the poem insists that nature will not only survive but thrive after the end of humans, nature is bleak outside of the house. The dog, a beast by nature, is starving an covered in sores.
Bradbury's focus on automation and technological advancement showcase in this story as well. The house does everything for the family, and it is through the house's behavior that we learn more about the people who once lived there. Despite the wonders of automated living, it's mindlessness shows. Even as the house is burning down, the kitchen stove continues to churn out breakfast food because it confuses the fire engulfing the food with humans eating it. The house can supposedly do anything, but it cannot even save itself.
In many of Bradbury's short stories as well as his longer works, he is not hesitant to criticize machines that take the place of human thought and emotion. This criticism is present once again, even in a 4.5 page story.