Ray Bradbury: Short Stories

Ray Bradbury: Short Stories Summary and Analysis of "The Fog Horn"


In "The Fog Horn," the narrator and a man named McDunn work in a stone tower, far out from land, to alert ships passing through the fog of their proximity to land. The tower emitted red and white lights, as well as a "Voice," the deep cry that the Fog Horn sent out into the world. It was lonely work. On the night before it was the narrator's turn to return to land, McDunn tells him that he has something special to tell him about.

They discuss how the Fog Horn sounds like a "big lonely animal crying in the night," and then McDunn proceeds to tell the narrator that at about this time of year, "something comes to visit the lighthouse" (2.) The narrator does not understand what he is trying to say, but McDunn instructs him to just wait and watch. They sit together as the time passes, and McDunn tells the narrator the story he made up about why this creature returns every year. He believes that the man who created the Fog Horn wanted to create a sound that was so lonely that "whoever hears it will know the sadness of eternity and the briefness of life" (3.)

As he's finishing the story, he points out in the distance and exclaims that he creature has arrived. The narrator sees a dinosaur-like creature emerge from the sea, approximately 100 feet long. As the monster called out, it made a sound eerily similar to the sound of the Fog Horn. As they listen to his cries, McDunn asks the narrator if he now understands why the monster comes every year - it's because the monster believes it is communicating with the Fog Horn. It is as if it thinks the Fog Horn is a long lost friend, companion, or lover. They hypothesize that the creature lies deep in the depths of the ocean, trying to forget that it is the last (or one of the last) of its species, but the Fog Horn calls out relentlessly to it.

They decide to experiment and turn off the Fog Horn. The creature becomes enraged and starts to charge at the tower. Their efforts to turn the Fog Horn back on come too late, and the creature does not slow its charge. McDunn and the narrator run down to the cellar of the tower, trying to avoid the monster's attack. The tower crumbles around them, and the noise of the Fog Horn stops permanently. They sensed "the lament, the bewilderment, the loneliness of the great monster, folded over and upon us, above us, so that the sickening reek of its body filled the air, a stone's thickness away from our cellar." The thing that the monster had called out to and that had called back to was now gone, and the monster sent out great sounds from its mouth, just like the Fog Horn.

The next day, the two men are rescued and claim that the waves were responsible for the damage. A year later, a new lighthouse was built, but the narrator already had a new job on land. One night, he drove down and parked near the lighthouse to listen. The monster never came back, according to McDunn. As the narrator listened to the Fog Horn, he believed it sounded like the monster, and he wished there was something he could say in return.


This story articulates the basic human need of communicating with others. Remarkably, Bradbury achieves this through a non-human figure, a monster that rises from the sea. Bradbury's tale of the monster traveling for an entire year through the sea just to communicate with the fog horn allows the reader to empathize with the monster, even though it does not resemble a human in the slightest. This empathy allows the reader to realize how central the need of communication is to basic human happiness.

We are in constant communication with the people around us, and it is very difficult when we are in extended isolation. Not only do we communicate with other people, but we also communicate with our environs every day. This is even truer in today's digital age, where one can communicate with someone else through e-mail, Facebook, or Skype. Communication and human companionship is a cornerstone to the human existence.

The fact that the monster finds comfort and companionship in the noise of a fog horn also raises the question of, "Who or what provides us with companionship?" One might think of Tom Hank's movie, "Castaway," where he creates a friend, Wilson, out of a volleyball that survived the plane crash. He is able to find solace through something as simple as a volleyball. Who do we seek for companionship in our everyday life? With this in mind, one wonders if the monster really believed the fog horn was another monster, or does he know it is not a monster yet returns for the comfort of its sound?

The opposite of communication and companionship is isolation, which is another prominent theme in the story. Not only is the monster isolated from the noise of the fog horn, but the two workers, McDunn and the narrator, are separated from the other parts of society. They stand on the border of sea and land, isolated from both worlds. To emphasize this isolation, they must wait for a rescue crew to arrive the next morning to save them from the collapsed cellar after the monster's attack. McDunn has spent so much time away from mainland society that he is intimately aware of the monster's coming and goings, which he has calculated to a specific day.

Considering the narrator's position, that of an isolated sea worker, we must consider his narrative bias when telling the story. Is he reading into the monster's actions because of his own loneliness? Is it easy for him to project emotions onto the monster because he himself feels lonely and isolated? It is always important to consider the source of the story, and "The Fog Horn" is no different.