The Long Rain, Ray Bradbury: Summary & Analysis

"The Long Rain" is a renowned science fiction short story written by American author Ray Bradbury (1920-2012). Despite Bradbury's self-identification as a "fantasy" writer, this particular story falls squarely within the science fiction genre. Originally published in 1950 under the title "Death-by-Rain" in the magazine Planet Stories, the narrative takes place in the hostile jungle environment of Venus, where four stranded astronauts struggle to reach safety within the protective confines of the "Sun Dome."

Plot Summary

The story opens with four Earthmen trudging through the Venusian jungle, enduring a relentless downpour. Their rocket has crashed, and they desperately aim to find shelter, sustenance, and warmth provided by the Sun Domes scattered across the planet.

Amid a ferocious storm, one of the men succumbs to panic and is struck by lightning, resulting in his death. The remaining three survivors are identified as Pickard, Simmons, and an unnamed lieutenant. They eventually stumble upon a Sun Dome, only to discover it ravaged by native Venusians. These indigenous creatures periodically emerge from the sea to destroy the domes and eradicate Earthmen on the planet.

Over time, Pickard descends into madness, refusing to continue alongside his companions. Simmons informs the lieutenant that Pickard will remain in the rain, succumbing to a slow death by drowning. Helpless, the lieutenant initially hesitates to abandon Pickard, but Simmons, armed with a gun, shoots him dead. Simmons justifies his actions by asserting that Pickard would have burdened the group and jeopardized their survival. Reluctantly, the lieutenant acknowledges the pragmatism of Simmons' decision.

As their journey continues, hunger weakens Simmons, and the incessant rain begins to drive him to the brink of insanity. Convinced that there is no escape from the torment, Simmons urges the lieutenant to proceed alone while he contemplates suicide. Struggling with the situation, the lieutenant reluctantly leaves Simmons behind and continues his solitary trek, eventually reaching what appears to be another Sun Dome.

Upon entering the dome, the lieutenant discovers an impeccably arranged space, replete with food, a comfortable cot for rest, and a fresh uniform. Sensing the presence of people, he notices a radiant sun at the center of the room. The story concludes as the lieutenant, driven to an altered state, tears off his own clothes and walks forward.

Analysis

Exploring Approaching Death

"The Long Rain" can be fruitfully analyzed alongside another Ray Bradbury story, "Kaleidoscope," from The Illustrated Man collection. In both stories, characters face imminent death and grapple with their impending fate. "Kaleidoscope" explores the human attitude toward death as astronauts communicate through their headsets after their spaceship explodes in space. Similarly, "The Long Rain" delves into the psychological response of individuals facing the relentless downpour and the inevitability of their demise.

The Trajectory of Madness and Death

Each of the four men in "The Long Rain" meets a tragic end. The first dies due to panic during an electrical storm, while the second is killed by his companion to prevent him from becoming a burden. The third man takes his own life to avoid descending into madness and helplessness caused by the incessant rain. This leaves the fourth man, the lieutenant, whose fate remains uncertain.

The Ambiguous Ending

The conclusion of the story raises questions about the lieutenant's fate. Is the Sun Dome a real sanctuary that he manages to reach, thereby avoiding the same destiny as his companions? Or is it a figment of his troubled mind, akin to the mirages experienced by dehydrated individuals in the desert?

The description of the Sun Dome seems too perfect, suggesting an illusion rather than reality. The presence of steaming hot chocolate, freshly prepared food, and a new uniform waiting for the lieutenant all contribute to the sense of a mirage. Moreover, the depiction of the sun hanging in the center of the room, rather than in the sky, adds to the surreal nature of the setting.

The lieutenant tearing off his clothes as he walks forward can be interpreted as an act of hallucination, reminiscent of "paradoxical undressing" often observed in individuals nearing death from hypothermia. This darker interpretation suggests that the lieutenant's fantasy of the Sun Dome leads him to remove his clothes, effectively sealing his fate as he succumbs to the rains that his mind has ceased to register.

A Metaphor for Incessant and Deadly Forces

Bradbury employs the imagery of the "long rain" as a metaphor for an incessant and potentially lethal force that drives individuals to madness before causing their demise. The story does not allegorize any specific destructive force, such as a nuclear attack or a postcolonial struggle. Instead, it allows readers to apply the rain metaphor to their own interpretations. It can symbolize the struggles of life itself, the elusive pursuit of comfort and happiness, and the psychological toll of a seemingly unattainable goal.

In essence, "The Long Rain" offers a narrative that invites readers to contemplate the relentless forces that can drive individuals to madness and death, leaving them trapped in an unattainable quest for a brighter destination.

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