Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt”

When wish fulfillment runs off the rails

Jim Esch
4 min readMay 20

“The Veldt” is the lead-off story in Ray Bradbury’s collection The Illustrated Man.

72 years ago, Ray Bradbury imagined a dystopian America rife with technological conveniences by way of domestic microcosm: a nuclear family comfortably ensconced in a cutting-edge house. Engineered with creature comforts that satisfy every need and entertain every whim, the HappyHome takes all the labor away and leaves a void in its wake.

The HappyHome cooks, cleans, and takes care of the children like a nanny. Its virtual reality nursery projects whatever the kids’ fantasies can conjure, even if it comes to murderous revenge.

Sound familiar? Be careful what you wish for.

The children want the freedom to indulge their fantasies. The parents feel threatened by the kids’ fixation on a violent African veldt setting — rife with lions, vultures, and death — and when they resolve to shut down the house and reclaim their relevancy as parents, the children want none of that and freak out, then get rid of Mommy and Daddy in the story’s eerie climax.

“The Veldt” is a projection of our anxiety over technology, how we use it to babysit children and labor-save ourselves toward irrelevancy.

We’ve been at this for decades. Think boob tube, Atari, Nintendo, Furby, Tamagachi, Internet, iPads, smartphones, social media. Children are cajoled, consoled, entertained, and distracted by such devices. But the more they’re glued to tech, the less they’re connected to family.

The HappyHome is an extreme manifestation of the American consumer’s worship of convenience. We want the creature comforts. We want to be coddled without lifting a finger. It’s the ultimate smart home. A consumerist utopia. A celebration of the winning formula: wealth + leisure = the good life.

Modern parallels to this utopian ideal abound. Think of our fascination with automatons. We have robot pets, robot sex dolls, robots that clean our houses. We have devices that save us mental labor: the GPS so we never have to develop spatial awareness; translation software so we never have to learn the language, immersive VR games so we can play all day and never have to go outside; virtual…