Haunted Destiny: Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt”

Posted by Matt Foley on July 22, 2015 in Blog tagged with , , , ,

Haunted Destiny

Wendy Weber Céspedes

(University of Costa Rica)

The haunted home is probably one of the main motifs that have given rise to stories in literature. The idea that the place that should protect us as human beings turns against its inhabitants and provokes tragedy is simply a basic fear we can all identify with. Ray Bradbury depicts a similar tale in his story “The Veldt,” the account of a futuristic house rebelling against its supposed masters. Despite first impressions, the house in Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” is, in fact, presented to the reader as a haunted house, although an unorthodox, modern one, due to its uncanny, doubling, and possessive personality.

In “The Veldt,” one of the first affirmed characteristics of the Hadley residence is its uncanny nature, which impregnates the whole place. The nursery room and the house in general present an uncanny sensation about them, as if the house had a personality, as if it was sentient and preyed on its supposed masters. A representative scene of how this happens occurs when George Hadley, the father, walks towards the nursery room, and the sensors make the lights go on and off: “Preoccupied, he let the lights glow softly on ahead of him, extinguish behind him as he padded to the nursery door” (268). This scene can be easily related to ghost stories, in which the lights are uncontrollably turned on and off, without human intervention. In addition, it also shows how the house behaves almost intelligently, deciding how many lights will be turned on in front of George, and deciding when they will be turned off behind him, leaving the hall covered in shadows. This is a way of symbolizing how the house is “ahead” of the family as well, how it controls the light, the spark of life in it, not only controlling the lives of its inhabitants, but also threatening darkness, doom upon them. The uncanny sensations the house provides are so strong that even the Hadley couple notice them, even though it is their house and they should be familiar with it at that point: “What prompted us to buy a nightmare?” (276). The house that once was bought as Happylife Home technology reveals itself as such a terrible force that even the mother, Lydia, expresses the sensation out loud. The irony presented by the name of the house and the lady’s expression highlights how the supposed dream has been twisted into horribleness. The house, instead of being a home, is now a stranger to the couple, emancipating from them, from its original, expected mission. The house is there, but is no longer what it should be. The fact is irrefutable. The feeling is real. Both characters and readers can see it plainly, despite what the domicile is supposed to be. The house, governed so efficiently by the nursery room, is certainly seen in Bradbury’s story as a ghostly house, its nature hidden behind artificial intelligence.

Despite all feelings of uncertainty the house might provoke, another of its traits depicts more evidently the ghostly nature it has: doubling. The house mercilessly takes over the roles of the people within the house, doubling the role of mother and father, of caregiver, even of life itself. Lydia, once again, expresses this to George: “‘You’re beginning to feel unnecessary too’” (267). The parents realize the house, which was supposed to be a home, has become a prison, controlling every aspect of their lives, not only making them crippled and dependant, but most of all redundant. They begin to fear the house that was supposed to protect them, and it has now turned into a very discreet threat. They become helpless, superfluous victims of the house, because they, in fact, need it to live. Their relationship with the house is shown in their attempts to get rid of their dependence, which fail blatantly. Being an automat, the house can easily dispose of them, in the same way as it was supposed to take care of them. The house manages to be essential in their lives, and when fear finally instills upon the Hadleys’ hearts, they also fear it is already too late. However, the house’s doubling acts are explored even further in Bradbury’s story: “‘You’ve let this room and this house replace you and your wife in your children’s affections. This room is their mother and father, far more important in their lives than real parents’” (274). The issue of doubling is also clearly stated in the voice of the psychiatrist. The monster the house has changed into traps and organizes, seizing the children –supposedly the most vulnerable ones– and changing them too in the process to be a part of the house, like an accessory. If the house needed at least some kind of human touch to continue existing, the house has made sure it is only under its command that such humans subsist. Thus the house substitutes the parents in order to embody itself in the children. In the end, the house, with all its cunning, slowly replaces everything in the family’s life and provides a substitute for their life, accomplishing what it was intended to do in the first place, but in an unexpectedly catastrophic way for its inhabitants.

            A final aspect that is highlighted in Bradbury’s “The Veldt” is how creepily the house lurks upon its occupants, like a devilish vigilante, symbiotically absorbing what it needs and simply eliminating what it does not. This possessive trait can also be related to stories of traditionally haunted houses. It attracts, takes, and absorbs. The children reflect this quite plainly, too: “I don’t want to do anything but look and listen and smell; what else is there to do?” (272). Peter comments on how the house provides everything they consider necessary to live, also stating, at the same time, that the house is life now, for it gives all that life is supposed to give. This demonstrates that the house has changed not only their former life-styles, but their human nature as well. As was mentioned before, in projecting its needs upon the children, the house has made them a part of itself. This is what, in the end, leads the story to conclude just as it does: “Don’t let them switch off the nursery and the house,’ he was saying” (276). Ultimately, the children request the house to save them from their real parents. The house has taken the children and made them part of itself, surely, but it is only to use them in order to save itself, like useful appliances that lie within to serve the house, inverting the roles of master and tool. The house becomes a powerful force, indeed, by making sure everything within itself belongs to it. Place and children end up helping each other survive whatever threats their symbiosis, a condition the house itself has propitiated. Its appropriation is complete. It has isolated and eliminated what was unnecessary, keeping just what it needed to guarantee its survival. In the end, the supposedly nourishing traits the house displayed become absorbent and lethal for those “people,” now only objects, that dwelled in it, as often occurs in classical haunted houses.

Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” is, certainly, a great piece of short fiction. The house the story depicts is a strong, yet abstract character. Despite its natural condition as an object, the house’s supposedly inertness is ghoulishly subverted in the artificial intelligence it possesses, giving it a primitive, clever, even beastly instinct of survival, which ultimately scares and finishes the other living forms that inhabited it, either by elimination or appropriation. Bradbury indeed manages to take a modern house in the future, and using its very uncanny, possessive, doubling nature, turns it into a haunted, ghostly house, full of forces no one can control, all hidden behind the mirror of normality.

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LAGA 1About the author

Wendy Weber Céspedes pursues a Master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Costa Rica; she dutifully enjoys fiction in almost any of its manifestations, and loves to write about it from a comfy spot with plenty of chocolate cake and her cat’s company.

LAGA 2About co-hosting with The Latin American Gothic Association

In the spirit of international collaboration, The Gothic Imagination is delighted to be co-hosting a series of blogs over the summer with The Latin American Gothic Association. Their site may be found here: Latin American Gothic Association.

The inclusive mission statement of LAGA can be found to the left (click to enlarge).

 

 

 

 

 

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