Key Quotations from Bradbury’s ‘The Veldt’ Explained

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most notable quotations from one of Ray Bradbury’s very best stories, ‘The Veldt’ (1952). The story must certainly rank among Bradbury’s most unsettling, because it suggests that children have the capacity to do terrible things, and to turn on the very people to whom they owe their existence: their own parents.

This story is full of quotations which neatly sum up the story’s core ideas and ‘message’. Let’s examine some of them. We’ll quote only a few words from each key passage, for the purpose of criticism and review.

‘Children are carpets, they should be stepped on occasionally’.

This quotation is found in the conversation George and Lydia have as they try to figure out why their children would want to turn on them. George quotes the line but cannot recall who originated it, but he sees that it has relevance to their own situation. Haven’t they given Peter and Wendy everything they could possibly want?

George points out that perhaps this is precisely the problem. His proverbial comment comparing children to carpets, because they both to be ‘stepped on’ occasionally, suggests the likely cause of the children’s misbehaviour. Children need discipline and boundaries as well as freedom and indulgence, ‘stick’ as well as ‘carrot’, as another old proverb has it.

Or, as yet another proverb, whose origins are ultimately biblical, puts it: ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’ If you never discipline your children (although corporal punishment is not advised in our own times), they will grow up to expect always to have their own way, and their desires will never be ‘checked’ or restrained.

‘They’re spoiled and we’re spoiled’.

Hot on the heels of the ‘carpet’ quotation above comes this, another line spoken by George to his wife. These five words neatly convey the core problem which Bradbury is exposing and exploring in ‘The Veldt’: humans, adult humans, have had their lives made easier and more convenient thanks to the wonders of technology.

But what if this leads parents like George and Lydia, in their relatively carefree and relaxed lives, to spoil their children in turn? Indeed, this is precisely what has happened. The result, of course, is that their children grow up without any sense of boundaries, as discussed above.

‘I don’t want to do anything but look and listen and smell’.

As the psychologist David McClean observes, the nursery was supposed to be a way of discovering what children were thinking, by studying the ‘patterns’ their minds left on the walls.

And although there are clearly creative and imaginative aspects to the nursery – a space for the children to play – there is a sense that Wendy and Peter have become oddly passive, as Peter’s comment about simply looking and listening and smelling (‘what else is there to do?’) reveals.

Indeed, given Bradbury’s dislike of television expressed elsewhere in his fiction, most notably in his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and his short story ‘The Pedestrian’, one is tempted to see the walls of that nursery as a symbolic representation of television and the culture of passivity and indolence it fosters.

‘Nothing ever likes to die – even a room.’

David McClean, the psychologist who comes to investigate the nursery, offers this wise remark which taps into the notion that the nursery has somehow become animate and literally contains those lions and giraffes and other wild animals. The quotation pithily sums up how humans like to personify nonhuman and inanimate things, such as buildings and individual rooms.

What McClean means, of course, is that we don’t like to let a room die and lose the ‘life’ and sense of home that it once had. But Bradbury’s story summons a world in which technology has blurred the boundary between the living and non-living, human and non-human – and it has perhaps become possible to think of such a concept, not as a poetic statement about human attitudes to spaces, but as a literal truth: the nursery really will not accept being allowed to ‘die’, and will – with the help of the two Hadley children – exact a terrible revenge.

‘My God, how we need a breath of honest air!’

So George exclaims after he has switched off the nursery and even Lydia is begging him to turn it back on, if only for a few moments, to placate their hysterical children.

George’s quotation is telling because it shows that he fully understands – albeit too late – that technology mediates our experience of the world and, in doing so, it offers a false version of that world. The simulated lions and giraffes in the ‘veldt’ that the children create in the nursery is merely the most salient example.


‘The house was full of dead bodies’.

The third-person narrator of ‘The Veldt’ is responsible for this quotation. The house appears to have died once all of the technological aids and contraptions have been shut down. This idea of the house being an animate – even strangely human – entity is a core theme of Bradbury’s story, as the quotation from David McClean about rooms not liking to die, discussed above, also suggests.

This moment neatly dovetails with another Ray Bradbury story, ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’, in which the opposite happens: the human inhabitants of a house die in a nuclear war but the various mechanical mice and other machines in the house go on performing their tasks, even though there is no longer any need for them.

‘They realized why those other screams had sounded familiar.’

At various points throughout ‘The Veldt’, George and Lydia hear terrible screams inside the nursery, but it is only near the end of the story, as the lions advance on them, that they realise why the earlier screams had sounded so familiar: they were their own screams.

How can this be? If the nursery is a space in which the children can effectively paint their deepest and darkest desires onto the walls and watch (and hear) them become real, then presumably both Peter and Wendy desired to hear their own parents scream in agony as the lions devoured them.

This quotation, which concludes the penultimate section of Bradbury’s story, reveals that, in being trapped in the nursery, George and Lydia have provided the missing piece of the puzzle: before, the screams were merely what the children most wanted to hear, but this time, the lions have been given what they need to make those screams terrifyingly real. As is its way, the nursery has made the dream, or the wish, a horrible reality.

The same presumably goes for the mysterious meat which George and Lydia could see the lions feasting upon. It was themselves: a premonition of what would become reality as soon as the lions, and Wendy and Peter, had their chance.

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