“A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury is an interesting commentary on causality and destiny. Bradbury, who was well-known for his science fiction stories, utilizes the concept of time travel to demonstrate how our decisions have great consequences. The story explores themes relating to the Butterfly Effect, which states that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. This story studies the idea of actions and their consequences, by showing how even the tiniest change can create a ripple effect that causes major disruptions to some preordained destiny.
Set in 2055, “A Sound of Thunder” tells the story of a man named Eckels who embarks on a safari sixty million years in the past with the goal of killing a Tyrannosaurus Rex. He begins the journey mostly confident in his hunting abilities, but the moment he lays his eyes on the enormous creature, he becomes numb from shock. In his terrified state, he does the one thing he was directed not to do; he steps foot off of the Path. Now I know this may not seem life altering, but as it turns out, touching even a single blade of grass off the Path can change the course of history. Once the group returns to the present, Eckels notices a dead butterfly under his shoe. His unintentional killing of the butterfly ultimately changes the course of history as they knew it
I enjoyed this short story because the author delivered the message in an entertaining way. The sci-fi elements mixed with vivid descriptions of the scenes made for an engaging read. I liked the overall storyline, although in my opinion, there are always technicalities with time travel. No, I don’t mean the whole altering the future thing, but rather I find myself questioning the logic and justification of why one thing might change the future drastically, but another thing won’t. I guess I am just skeptical of the randomness of it all. Nonetheless, the author provided enough detail that my imagination was able to fill in the missing pieces of the practicality of the situation.
I’d have to say that my favourite part of the story was the clever use of imagery. I found that the symbolism allowed the story to be more relatable. The main symbol of the butterfly was a clear allusion to the Butterfly Effect, and got the point across that small things can make large impacts. When Eckels noticed the impact his action had in the present time, he said, “Not a little thing like that! Not a butterfly!’ (11). The irony of the situation is that killing a giant that “towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker’s claws close to its oily reptilian chest” (6) caused no change, while killing a mere butterfly completely reshaped history. This message really resonated with me because it shows how even though you may think your actions are insignificant, they make a greater impact than you believe.
Tying into the topic of symbolism, I have to mention a significant element of the story; the Path. To me, the Path represents destiny. Eckels is explicitly warned never to leave the path, yet he did and that’s what caused the proverbial dominoes to fall. Just like our own destiny, the path “Doesn’t touch so much as one grass blade” (3). It is untouchable. This shows that destiny is written for us, and it’s not something we can go back in time and change. The debate as to whether humans have a preset destiny or not is complicated, but because of the symbolism surrounding the Path, I believe the author is saying that we shouldn’t try to mess with destiny.
One final point I’d like to discuss; although politics is not a topic I tend to bring up, I do like that the author added it to the story. It brings a sense of reality to the setting and provides a good example of the effects of Eckel’s small mistake on a larger scale. I’m sure there have been elections that many of us wish we could go back in time to change the results, but in Eckel’s case, it changed for the worse. This is definitely more of a significant change than the spelling of the Time Safari Inc. sign, and it really demonstrates how his incident will affect society. This is the only result that I really enjoyed because other than that, I believe that the ending was unremarkable and an unsatisfactory conclusion to the story. For such a large buildup, I found it to be a quick ending that provides little information on the consequences of each character’s actions.
All in all, I would recommend this story. It was packed with tension, fear, and clever imageries that had me wanting to read more. Although there were times when I found myself skimming over the lengthy descriptions to get to the point, it was overall an engaging story that really allowed me to picture the scenes in my head. Most of all, the main takeaway was evident, it’s the little things that sometimes make the biggest difference.
Ray Bradbury, A Sound of Thunder, in R is for Rocket, (New York: Doubleday, 1952)
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