A Sound of Thunder

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This article is about the short story by Ray Bradbury. For other uses, see Sound of Thunder (disambiguation).
"A Sound of Thunder"
Author Ray Bradbury
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction short story

"A Sound of Thunder" is an influential science fiction short story by Ray Bradbury, first published in Collier's magazine in the June 28, 1952 issue and Playboy in June 1956.[1] As of 1984, it was the most re-published science fiction story up to the present time.[2] The story is based around the concept of the Butterfly Effect, although it was published a decade before physicist Edward Lorenz introduced the phrase into popular usage.

Plot summary[edit]

The story is set in the year 2055, when time travel has become a practical reality, and the company Time Safari Inc. offers wealthy adventurers the chance to travel back in time to hunt extinct species such as dinosaurs. A hunter named Eckels pays $10,000 to join a hunting party that will travel back to the late Cretaceous Era, on a guided safari to kill a Tyrannosaurus rex. As the party waits to depart they discuss the recent presidential elections in which an apparently fascist candidate, Deutscher, has been defeated by the more moderate Keith, to the relief of many concerned. When the party arrives in the past, Travis (the hunting guide) and Lesperance (Travis’s assistant) warn Eckels and the two other hunters, Billings and Kramer, about the necessity of minimizing the events they change before they go back, since tiny alterations to the distant past could snowball into catastrophic changes in history. Travis explains that the hunters are obliged to stay on a levitating path to avoid disrupting the environment, that any deviation will be punished with hefty fines, and that prior to the hunt Time Safari scouts have been sent back to select and tag their prey, which would have died within minutes anyway, and whose deaths have been calculated to have minimal impact on the future.

Although Eckels is initially excited about the hunt, but when the monstrous Tyrannosaur approaches, he loses his nerve. Travis tells him he cannot leave, but Eckels panics, steps off the path and runs into the forest. Eckels hears shots, and on his return he sees that the two guides have killed the dinosaur, and shortly afterward the falling tree that would have killed the T-Rex has landed on top of it. Realising that Eckels has fallen off the path, Travis threatens to leave him in the past unless he removes the bullets from the dinosaur’s body, as they cannot be left behind. Eckels obeys, but Travis remains furious, threatening on the return trip to shoot him.

Upon returning to 2055, Eckels notices subtle changes - English words are now spelled and spoken strangely, people behave differently, and Eckels discovers that Deutscher has won the election instead of Keith. Looking at the mud on his boots, Eckels finds a crushed butterfly, whose death has apparently set in motion a series of subtle changes that have affected the nature of the alternative present to which the safari has returned. He frantically pleads with Travis to take him back into the past to undo the damage, but Travis explains that the time machine cannot return to any point in time that has already been visited (so as to prevent any paradoxes). Travis raises his gun, and there is a sound of thunder, implying that Eckels is fatally shot.

Literary analysis[edit]

A Sound of Thunder has a similar theme that is found in other works by Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles). It is set in a dystopian future that has created a technology that society is not ready for. The capacity to travel back in time is used as a recreational activity by the wealthy. This is suggested by the cost of the Safari and the potential fines for not complying with the rules of Time Safari Inc. Bradbury use the work to express his ideals about the dangers of an over dependence on technology. Throughout the story Bradbury references dates in world history in which major events occurred that alter the course of history. The first is made by the clerk that checks in Eckels and the rest of the group into the safari. He describes the many people that called, half joking, prior to the election about wanting to go back to 1492 if Deutscher won the election and became president. The year 1492 is when Christopher Columbus was credited with “discovering” the new world. In the years that followed the discovery of the western world by Europeans the native population in the Americans was nearly destroyed. Bradbury connects the hegemony of western world over the Amerindians to their development and use of superior technology. The other significant dates that Bradbury makes note of are 1776, 1812 and 1999. When Eckels flees from the Tyrannosaurus Rex and veers off the path and accidentally steps on a butterfly, he sets in motion a chain of events that changes not only who wins the presidential election but also why they win. Prior to his altering the past, the citizens wanted a leader that was willing to compromise and could see the value in alternative views. After the change was made in the past, the citizens elected a leader that was “We got an iron man now, a man with guts”. The choice to include two very different types of leaders by Bradbury is a projection of his feelings towards the politics of the world he grow up in and is a reflection of the world that he was a part of. In the early days of his youth he witnessed Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) New Deal help spur the economy of the United States and get them out of the Great Depression. He drew on the style of leadership by FDR and its focus on social welfare and used it to help craft the type of president Keith could be. During Bradbury’s life he would see the rise of The Third Reich and its leader Adolf Hitler. He would model Deutscher to fall in line with his style of leadership. This also shows Bradbury’s admiration for the past and how he glorifies it. Keith the morally right and just leader was in power when they left and when they returned Deutscher the dictator was in power. The dichotomy that Bradbury sets up between the two political candidates is set up against the backdrop of the WWII leaders. In A Sound of Thunder, Bradbury uses time travel to showcase a what if Hitler won scenario.

Symbols[edit]

Tyrannosaurus Rex – The Tyrannosaurus Rex is also called “The Tyrant Lizard, the most incredible monster in history”. As a symbol, the dinosaur represents an Adolf Hitler character. This representation as a Hitler by Bradbury is taken further by his use of the color red paint as a marker for what animal they can kill well they are in the past.

Dominoes – Eckels describes his action of killing the butterfly as representing a small domino that then knocks down a larger domino that in turn knocks down a gigantic domino. This a reference to the political domino theory that was used in the 1950s and 1960’s by the United States to justify political involvement in countries the United States believed would fall to the Communist takeover.

Deutscher - In German, the name means “a male German”. As a symbol, this can be viewed as representing Adolf Hitler, the German Dictator. The description that Bradbury provides for Deutscher is the worst kind of dictator a militarist, anti-Christ, anti-human and anti-intellectual. “we’d have the worst kind of dictatorship” according to the man behind the desk at Time Safari, Inc.

Characters[edit]

Eckels – Is the main protagonist of the story. He is scared at first of the potential dangers of going back in time to hunt. As he enters the building containing the Time Safari, Inc. he has to push down a mouth full of phlegm suggesting that he was nervous about the upcoming safari. Eckels also questions if the safari guarantees that he will come back alive further showing his lack of confidence. He is clearly out of his element and his actions support this. When Eckels finds out that Lesperance had traveled back in time, he completely disregards Travis explanation of the potential dangers of disturbing anything while they are in the past. Eckles takes Travis’s explanation of not belonging in the past and the dangers of it as simple conjecture telling Travis “that’s not clear”. When he comes face to face with the Tyrannosaurus Rex, he turns numb and says “Get me out of here” and describes how different and unlike any of the other safaris he had been on before. It takes the commanding of Lesperance to prevent Eckels from blindly shuffling off the path. After being redirected by Lesperance, he makes his way back to the time machine well the others continue the hunt. Eckels represents the stereotype of the rich game hunter that is more interested in showing off the trophy and not the thrill of the hunt. When the party returns after successfully taking down the Tyrannosaurus Rex, Travis makes Eckels retrieve the bullets from the dinosaur as punishment for stepping off the path. Staying in line with his character Eckels attempts to pay off Travis with a one hundred thousand dollars. Travis refuses and gives Eckles a knife and tells him to reach his arms all they way down the mouth of the dinosaur till his elbows are colored red and pull the bullets out. Despite the fact the Tyrannosaurus Rex is dead, Eckels this stills causes great distress to him. When he returns he is shuddering and collapse to the floor and does not move until they return to the future. Upon returning to the future, the Eckles find the world he left slightly altered. The first he noticed was slight taint of chemical smell in the air. The first physical change that he notices is the sign on the wall that displayed the name and slogan of the Time Safari Company had changed. The spelling of the words was very different. It is after this that he sits down and wipes the mud off his boots when he notices a dead butterfly embedded in the mud. At this point, all the fears that Eckels felt become a reality. Eckels verifies that things are different by confirming who won the presidency. In this new time line, Deutscher won the election. After pleading to everyone, Travis then raises his rifle and takes the safety off and a sound of thunder is heard. It is implied that Travis is true to his word and shoots Eckels.

Keith – The winning candidate for president before the safari heads back unto the past. Considered to be the moral liberal of the two candidates. At the end of the story, he is the losing candidate and is described as being weak and lacking guts. Keith represents the western ideal of compassion for all men and is the inverse of Deutscher. “Thank God Keith won. He’ll make a fine President of the United States.” Although said by the counter clerk, it was feeling that all the members of the party agreed with.

Deutscher – The losing candidate at the beginning of the story. He is described as the worst kind of dictator - a militarist, anti-Christ, anti-human, and anti-intellectual. He represents the cold calculating leaders of militaristic countries. Deutscher can be viewed as an Adolf Hitler style of leader.

Mr. Travis – The travel guide and leader of the party. He explains all the rules and is responsible for make sure everything goes as plans. Travis explains how what they do in the past the can reverberate and is compounded over time. “And all the families of the families of the families of that one mouse! With a stamp of your foot, you annihilate first one, then a dozen, then a thousand, a million, a billion possible mice!” Travis takes this example further and describes a world in which stepping on a mouse could alter the course so much that George Washington never crosses the Delaware and the United States does not exist. At the end of the Safari, it is implied that Mr. Travis kills Eckels with a gunshot.

Lesperance – Travis assistant. He travels back in time before the safaris and tracks the target. He finds the exact moment that it will die naturally and sets the trip around it. Lesperance also acts as a balance to Travis. He calms Travis down and convinces him to let Eckels come back with them. He is also responsible for deescalating Eckels emotional state when he gets scared when he finally comes face to face with the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Adaptations[edit]

The story was aired on The Ray Bradbury Theater on October 8, 1989.[3] In this adaptation, Travis levels a pistol at Eckels' head prior to a "sound of thunder" and a quick cut to credits.[4]

The story was also parodied in the Time and Punishment section of The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror V".

Franchise Pictures developed a film adaptation under the same title, which was targeted for a 2003 release but ultimately delayed until September 2005. The film continues the story beyond Bradbury's work, bringing to life how the death of a single butterfly would impact evolution and humanity's chance of survival.[5] The movie failed at the box office and received poor reviews.

A Game Boy Advance video game based on the film was also released. It was finished in time for the film's planned 2003 release, delayed along with it and ultimately released in February 2005.[6] Planned console ports were cancelled.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

[7] [8] [9] [10]

  1. ^ Willis, Jesse (30 March 2011). "A Sound Of Thunder". Radio Drama Revival: Bradbury 13. SFFaudio. Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  2. ^ William G. Contento, Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections, Combined Edition, January 2008
  3. ^ "The Ray Bradbury Theater - Season 4, Episode 6: A Sound of Thunder". TV.com. 2007-05-22. Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  4. ^ "Sound of Thunder - 3 of 3". YouTube. 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  5. ^ "A Sound of Thunder (2005)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  6. ^ "A Sound of Thunder - IGN". Ca.ign.com. Retrieved 2013-10-05. 
  7. ^ Patai, Daphne. "Ray Bradbury And The Assault On Free Thought." Society 50.1 (2013): 41-47. Academic Search Premier. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.
  8. ^ Paradowski, Robert J. "Ray Bradbury." Critical Survey Of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition (2010): 1-9. Literary Reference Center. Web. 22 Nov. 2014
  9. ^ Weller, Sam. The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury. New York: William Morrow, 2005. Print
  10. ^ Holmes, Neil. "Fateful butterfly." New Scientist 182.2443 (2004): 31. Academic OneFile. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

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