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Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder: Summary, Theme & Analysis

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury is best known for such books as ''Fahrenheit 451'', but he was also a great short story writer. One of his most famous short stories is 'A Sound of Thunder,' about traveling back in time. Read on to find out more about this story!

Summary

It is the year 2055, and time travel has been discovered. A company called 'Time Safari Inc.' is taking people back in time to hunt dangerous, now-extinct animals, such as dinosaurs. A man named Eckels, wants to go back in time to hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex. As he waits to depart, he discusses the recent presidential election with the secretary, and they express relief that Keith has won, instead of Deutscher. Deutscher is 'militarist, anti-Christ, anti-human, anti-intellectual'. (For a real life comparison, imagine someone like Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin becoming our president.) The men also discuss how deadly these safaris are, and Eckels starts to feel afraid, almost deciding to back out.

Travis, the safari guide, takes Eckels to the time machine, where the rest of the group is waiting, and they begin their trip back in time. When they arrive, Travis notes that they have come back to a time before Jesus, Moses, the Pyramids, and President Keith. The hunters are given specific instructions to use a special path that has been constructed. They are not allowed to step off of it, or to shoot anything but the T-Rex that has been selected (it was going to die anyway, at almost exactly this time). Anything else might possibly change the future.

Travis explains that killing even one mouse in the past would eliminate millions of future generations of mice offspring. These mice would have fed foxes, but with them gone, the foxes starve, thus eliminating millions of their future offspring. The lions that would have eaten those foxes starve, and so on, up to the cavemen that needed these animals for food. They cease to exist, eliminating millions of human beings, and changing the future in ways that cannot be calculated. The Pyramids might not be built; the United States might not be founded. No one can guess what might happen. Even the government is nervous about this, and only allows Time Safari to stay open by paying heavy taxes.

As they walk along the path, Eckels is careless, aiming his gun at random things for fun. However, when they get to the T-Rex, he becomes nervous. The T-Rex roars with 'a sound of thunder' as it comes out of the jungle. Eckels sees the massive dinosaur and completely loses his nerve, saying that it cannot possibly be killed by their guns. He runs back to the time machine to hide, but as he does so, steps off the path. The other men kill the dinosaur, and Travis discovers that what Eckels has done. He is angry, thinking that the government will shut them down because of Eckels's carelessness. He makes Eckels get the bullets out of the dinosaur, since leaving them there might alter the past.

As soon as Eckels sees the Tyrannosaurus, its ferociousness scares him, and he carelessly steps off the path.
tyrannosaur

On the trip home, Travis threatens to shoot him if his stepping off the path has changed anything. When they get home, Eckels notices that things seem slightly strange. The sign on the wall shows the company's name as 'Tyme Sefari,' spelled differently than it used to be. He happens to see a small butterfly on the bottom of one of his boots, that he accidentally stepped on and killed when he went off the path.

Panicking, Eckels asks the secretary who won the presidential election, and finds out that Deutscher, not Keith, has won; the chain-reaction result of the butterfly being killed in the past. Travis aims his gun and there is again 'a sound of thunder' as he kills Eckels for changing the future.

Ray Bradbury, the author, looks at the theme of how small events matter in the story.
Ray Bradbury

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