By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
‘All Summer in a Day’ is a 1954 short story by Ray Bradbury (1920-2012). The story is set on Venus, where the sun only comes out once every seven years for a couple of hours; the rest of the time, the sun is hidden behind clouds and rains fall constantly. ‘All Summer in a Day’ is about a group of schoolchildren who have grown up on Venus, the sons and daughters of ‘rocket men and women’ who came to the planet from Earth, as the children prepare to experience the first ‘summer’ on Venus that they can remember.
Many of Ray Bradbury’s stories are allegorical, and carry other meanings which lurk beneath the surface of the story, and ‘All Summer in a Day’ is one of these. Before we come to the analysis, however, it might be helpful to recap the story’s plot.
‘All Summer in a Day’: plot summary
The story takes place on Venus, where ‘summer’ occurs for just a couple of hours every seven years. The story is set on one such day, and centres on a group of nine-year-old children as they excitedly wait for the clouds to clear and for the sun to appear in the sky.
One of the children, a pale and thin girl named Margot, is treated differently by the other children. Unlike them, she can remember the sun, because she grew up on Earth and came to Venus five years ago, when she was four. The other children were born on Venus and were too young when the sun last appeared, seven years ago, to remember it. Margot writes a poem describing the sun as a flower, but one of the other children, a boy named William, doesn’t believe she wrote it.
While they are watching the rainstorms gradually abating and waiting for the appearance of the sun, the children talk to each other. When Margot tells them the sun is like a penny, they once again disbelieve her, with one boy, William, claiming that it’s all a practical joke and he doesn’t believe the sun will come out. Turning on her, the children lock Margot in a closet at the end of the tunnel. When the sun comes out, the children are let out to play among the jungle, enjoying their hour or so in the sunshine, savouring this rare moment of sunlight and taking everything in.
The hour soon passes, and one of the girls feels a raindrop fall on her hand, and they realise that the sun will soon be going in again for another seven years. It’s only when they get back indoors and the rains start falling again that they remember they locked Margot in the closet. They go and let her out.
‘All Summer in a Day’: analysis
‘All Summer in a Day’ depicts a world without sun: Venus is a bleached, ashen, pale world because everything is deprived of the sunlight. Bradbury sketches in this rain-soaked world effectively, making us as readers share the excitement of the children as they wait for the sun to make its rare appearance.
The symbolism of ‘All Summer in a Day’ is subtle, but, like the sun in the story and its effects on the children, goes to work on us as readers in ways which we may not fully realise. One of the things which can take us by surprise upon reading the story is the swift change of character in the children, especially their ringleader, William. Before the sun appears, they are sullen and irritable, and clearly resent Margot because she can remember what the sun looks and feels like. But when they return from their brief time among the sunshine, they appear to be filled with remorse for depriving her of the opportunity to share in the experience by locking her in the closet.
The implication of this ending, then, is that the sun – and, by extension, being able to go out among nature and appreciate it – is good for us as human beings. The constant rainstorms on Venus have deprived the children of this experience. Bradbury was, at heart, a Romantic in the Wordsworthian sense, who believed that we need fresh air and open countryside and a close relationship with nature, and his stories are full of warnings about what can go wrong when human beings come to depend too much on technology and are deprived of this bond with the natural world and the open air. (See ‘The Pedestrian’ for a different, if related, work on this theme.)
As soon as the children have been exposed to the healing powers of nature for just a short while, they appear to recover their conscience and empathy, and regret depriving Margot of the experience they have had – the last time they will have it as children, since they will be sixteen and on the brink of adulthood when the sun next comes out on Venus.
Many of Ray Bradbury’s stories are allegories of a sort. But is ‘All Summer in a Day’ an allegory? Unlike many of Bradbury’s stories of the early 1950s it’s not easy to discern a Cold War allegory in ‘All Summer in a Day’, but the story is clearly meant to be about more than an imagined scenario in which children on Venus experience the sun for the first time. Among other interpretations, we might focus on the way in which Margot (whose French-derived name, complete with its silent final letter, even suggests a foreign quality among the other, supposedly English-speaking children) is ‘othered’ by her peers because she was a later arrival to the planet. The children have never really accepted her because she is different from them, and because, unlike them, she wasn’t born on Venus but emigrated to there from Earth when she was four and her parents moved there.
Although it would perhaps be reductive to distil the ‘moral’ of Bradbury’s story to the pithy summary, ‘if people get out there and commune with the natural world, it will make them more compassionate towards others, especially those who are different from them’, this message is clearly present in the story. Bradbury, like many other authors of science-fiction stories, uses the setting of the story, a different planet, both to conceal and reveal his story’s tacit commentary on immigration and how an ‘in-group’ refuses to accept a perceived ‘outsider’ because they are not native to that particular ‘land’.
But the rains of the story are as important as the sun, in this respect. The weather of Venus is a constant, predictable and regular as clockwork, and nothing can be done to change it. But the effects of the inevitable rainstorms are all too predictable, leading the children to be restricted in their movement and their play. This breeds resentment and, one suspects, boredom. In other words, Bradbury refuses to point the finger at William and the other children for treating Margot differently, even though we can see their behaviour towards her is wrong. He highlights how a life of miserable weather, day in day out, is bound to take its toll on the inhabitants of Venus and colour their view of the world, their mood, and their behaviour.