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American Literature’s Ray Bradbury
In studying short stories, collections, and novels with the different authors of American literature, critics tend to point out such writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Poe. Some could forget Ray Bradbury whom Douglas J. McReynolds calls ” A genius as well as his gladness affirmation of the world is made manifest . . . ” (2043), probably because they are familiar only with Bradbury’s popular novels, like Fahrenheit 451 and Something wicked comes this way. Still little known are the many aspiring short stories that Bradbury has written, several of which, such as A Medicine for Melancholy, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, the Skeleton, The Dwarf, and All Summer in a Day, explore his feeling of the people, places, and culture of other countries.
Not all critics, however, have ignored Bradbury’s particular skill at committing his dreams to paper and in so doing, making them live for others. In “Sun and Shadow,” for example, a poor Mexican, tired of being treated as a “local,” deliberately exposes himself to keep from carrying out a North American fashion photographer attempts to take a picture, the Mexican appears and drops his pants. Bradbury writes science fiction, in fact, hardly concludes, for the values Bradbury seeks to express are the values he associates with his own past. His stories contain a sense of wonder, often
sense of joy, and a lyrical & rhythmic touch that sets his work apart. Douglas J. McReynolds reminds us “The strength of a Bradbury story is . . . his own telling of it.”(2045). Ray Bradbury’s real concern is to search some key matters in American history capitalism, technology, the family, the role of immigration.
Second Bradbury is a fantasist whose fantasies are oddly circumscribed as him writing less about strange things happening to people than about strange imagining of the human mind. It is in Bradbury’s own Midwestern background that one finds the most important sources for his fiction. These reasons and his themes, in what might be called a “Baroque manner”(viii) said Wayne L. Johnson, are key elements of Ray Bradbury’s uniqueness. One of Bradbury’s most unfailing themes in his early fiction was that of alienation. Rupture from technology, from a culture, even from the body itself and while this theme is most readily apparent in the stories dealing with Mexicans in America and Americans in Mexico, it permeates other stories in Dark Carnival at an even more central level. In Bradbury’s early twenties he became more aware with his style and developing it, then discovering new sources of material for his fiction. So, in his tales of space and the future, the emphasis is less on technology than the abuser of technology. In doing so he became a lone symbol of the dangers of technology, even to the point of refusing to drive an automobile or fly in an airplane.
Bradbury’s uniqueness was sculptured by his influences growing up. Born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920 his family had to move westward because of the depression. His mother Esther Bradbury was a great film buff and she
passed her enthusiasm on to her son. Leonard Spaulding Bradbury, Bradbury’s father, a lineman for a company, his occupation was transformed into romance in “Powerhouse,” a story in The Golden Apples of the Sun. His Aunt, Neva, who introduced Bradbury to fairy tales and OZ books, also whose name was given to characters in a few stories and received the dedication of Bradbury’s collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun, influenced him greatly. It’s possible that his early impressions of the desert ( Bradbury’s father was laid off & was searching for work in Arizona ) affected his later visions of Mars and perhaps his views on Mexican Americans.
Growing up, Bradbury, only at age six had seen a number of horror movies and had developed a morbid fear of the dark. Nine years later, he began submitting short stories to major magazines and wrote for school publication. Bradbury began to show interest in science fiction and the future when he discovered the pulp magazine Amazing Stories & visit with his aunt Neva to the Century of Progress exposition at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. But Bradbury’s first real connection with the world of science fiction was when he joined the Los Angles Science Fiction League. There Bradbury met Henry Kuttner who became a mentor to Bradbury. Finally Bradbury began his own mimeographed publication called Futuria Fantasia and broke into professional markets in 1941 with “Pendulum.” The activities that Bradbury participated in, and the places and people he visited helped him immensely. His traveling shows as a youth, trips to Mexico, and the interest in Irishmen, Mexicans, and Chicanos gave him many ideas for stories.
Still struggling, living with family and selling newspapers, Bradbury
published his first short story in 1938, “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma,” then began selling stories to Weird Tales and eventually would go on to make Bradbury’s first collection, Dark Carnival. Later he was voted best science fiction author of the year by the National Fantasy Fan Federation. Except Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury had not yet produced a truly unified work of fiction until Something Wicked this way comes. The strong point of Something Wicked this way comes is the character of Charles Halloway whose melancholy and isolation are presented as foreshadowing of his final, lonely confrontation with the forces of evil represented by a traveling carnival. Douglas J. McReynolds commented “These stories are about those momentary escapes from the knowable world.”(2045).
Bradbury has always been a resourceful artist, and any conclusions about the value or direction of his later work would be premature. His earlier work, however, there can be little doubt, for all its eclecticism and occasional stylistic excesses, it stands as one of the most interesting and significant bodies of short fiction in modern American literature. Douglas J. McReynolds said it best “1945-1959 is Bradbury’s most productive and creative years, and has seemed to have found a position of permanence in American literature.”(2042). Stories such as these assure Bradbury a permanent place in the history of the American short story and in the history of science- fiction.
Bradbury’s works are so powerful because he uses his experiences and observations from his life and places them into his unique works. What seems to make Ray Bradbury’s stories almost magical is that the way he tells the
story. He writes short stories like no other author, just like his science fiction. Its safe to say that Ray Bradbury has influenced American literature in the way of science fiction story telling.
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