Bradbury is perhaps best known for his discussion of censorship in his full-length work, Fahrenheit 451, but he also uses his short stories to address this theme. In this collection, censorship is a major theme in "The Murderer," "The Exiles," "The Pedestrian," and "The Flying Machine," and it plays a more minor role in his other stories. Censorship applies to censorship of literary works, behavior, and technology. In "The Murderer" and "The Pedestrian," the authorities have censored ways of thinking and being, like the Murderer's dislike of technology gadgets and the Pedestrian's insistence on walking rather than spending time in front of a television screen. While in some cases Bradbury clearly condemns censorship, his thoughts are murkier in the case of "The Flying Machine" when they apply to undirected technological development. In all of these works, Bradbury forces the reader to consider his or her own beliefs about censorship and the risks associate with it.
Bradbury has been accused of being against technology, and he is certainly critical of the technology that features in his short stories. In his stories from the Martian Chronicles in particular, humans have left Earth for Mars in hope of a better and more promising future. The Earth has imploded because of humanity’s over-reliance on gadgets, and weapons have proliferated to a point where mutual destruction is nearly ensured on Earth. Many of the characters are either fleeing technology, destroyed by it, or have taken a role in destroying technology. The Murderer has tried to destroy the technology that has interfered in his life, and the Pedestrian has actively tried to avoid technologies encroachment. Additionally, the family in "The Veldt" ends up imploding because of their technologically advanced home, and this is the case with many of the characters in Bradbury’s short stories, whether on a physical or emotional level.
Time travel features predominantly in Bradbury's famous story, "A Sound of Thunder," where he explores the idea of time travel as well as the possible repercussions of entering the past. He plays with the idea of "the ripple effect," where even the minutest events in the past can have drastic repercussions for the future. Bradbury's discussion of the ripple effect forces the reader to consider his or her own place in the world and their responsibilities for future generations. The reader must ask the questions, "How are my actions affecting the people who will come after me? Am I leaving the world a better place for them?" Not only must one examine their relationship with the future, but also their relationship with the people around them. How do their actions affect the others that they live with? Bradbury is able to raise all of these questions through his novel discussion of time travel in his fantasy literature.
Space travel is the primary theme of the short stories that were originally published in The Martian Chronicles, such as "The Million Year Picnic," and "Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed." "All Summer in a Day," also discusses space travel, but the setting is Venus instead of Mars. In the case of travel to Mars, the Earthmen are typically fleeing the potential destruction of Earth. There are threats of bombs and the planet is in the midst of war, driven to this existence because of an over reliance on technology, but ironically it is this technology that enables them to travel to Mars. Bradbury's fascination with space travel takes place in the midst of the beginning of the space race. Written just about a decade before man first walked on the moon, Bradbury anticipated the excitement around space travel and exploration. Also a temporal reference is the idea of fleeing a nuclear situation. Many of Bradbury's stories that deal with space travel were written just after the development of the atomic bomb.
The theme of the ripple effect has a strong connection with the theme of time travel, particularly in the story "A Sound of Thunder." Bradbury's exploration of time travel leads him to discuss the potential effects the past and present have on the future, as well as the interconnectivity we have as human beings living on the same planet. In a less direct manner, the ripple effect relates to the short stories that deal with humans traveling to Mars, such as "Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed," as well as, "The Million Years Picnic." Humans have fled Earth and begun to colonize Mars because of the ripple effect of war and destruction on Earth. Instead of the past affecting the future far down the line, present actions have deep and profound effects on how people live during the present day.
In both "I See You Never" and "The Fog Horn," Bradbury experiments with the idea of companionship and loneliness. Mr. Ramirez must say goodbye to his landlady, Mrs. O'Brien, after he has been deported to Mexico. He has enjoyed his time in America but has not made many lasting friendships, except for with his landlady, a stern but respectable woman. He tries to communicate his appreciation for her companionship when he leaves and says goodbye, saying, "I see you never," and meaning that he will never see her again. In "The Fog Horn," companionship is the main theme of the story. A monster, which is rumored to sit alone in the depths of the lonely ocean, responds to the call of the Fog Horn, which sounds remarkably similar to its own screams. The lighthouse workers believe the monster returns to the lighthouse annually because it believes that something of its kind will be there waiting for it. The monster's perpetual and consistent journey speaks to the power and allure of companionship.
Progress vs. Tradition
The theme of progress vs. tradition speaks to the idea of man vs. nature in Bradbury's work. The battle between progress and tradition features predominantly in "The Pedestrian," where the man continues to walk despite the onslaught of technological advances. He is considered an out of touch traditionalist because he continues to walk every night. This theme forces the reader to consider if progress and preservation of tradition can coexist together. In the short stories, those who oppose technology are eliminated or isolated, but that is not always the case outside of Bradbury's literature.
Ray Bradbury: Short Stories Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Ray Bradbury: Short Stories is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.