“All Summer in a Day”
By Ray Bradbury
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction 1954
2018 beamed as bright as a Broadway marquee at the end of 2017. A brightness that most Januaries cannot live up to. Portland has been dark and rainy and something close to cold. (I can’t complain too much about the winters here compared to mine in New Hampshire.) The first winter anywhere is probably the hardest. It is so easy to stay inside, asleep and alone. I know to take Vitamin D pills, to eat leafy greens, to exercise, travel, and laugh as much as I can in January and February. But still, the winter doldrums have come for me and I find myself daydreaming of faraway beaches, the tight-skinned feeling of sunburn, and sweat soaked hair.
All of this is to say that lately, I am remembering one of the hottest days I’ve ever felt and the short story that was part of it. I was in New Haven, maybe it was July, and a friend and I had a made a monthly habit of going to Listen Here, short story readings by local actors at the Institute Library. The Institute Library is an 1878 four-story, brick and wood-frame building. It gets narrow among the bookshelves and has the familiar musty smell you’d expect from a place as old and as packed with books as this was. But for all the character it had, it did not have great airflow. Moving to sit on my fold-out chair, I felt my excitement rise and get caught in the thick humidity before settling back down over my skin. I was sweaty now with the fear that I would pass out next to a biography of Bill Clinton.
Under these circumstances, I heard “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury, an extreme example of how weather can affect behavior.
“Ready?” “Ready.” “Now?” “Soon.” Bradbury lays out a sense of excitement and expectation for us immediately with the disembodied voices of nine-year-old schoolchildren’s questions before launching into the poetic backstory that will catch us up to the present moment:
It had been raining for seven years; thousands upon thousands of days compounded and filled from one end to the other with rain… And this was the way life was forever on the planet Venus, and this was the schoolroom of the children of the rocket men and women who had come to a raining world to set up civilization and live out their lives.
Then we meet Margot, “a very frail girl who looked as if she had been lost in the rain for years and the rain had washed out the blue from her eyes and the red from her mouth and the yellow from her hair.” A girl who hasn’t been on Venus her entire life like the rest of the children. A girl who has seen the Sun. This breeds a jealousy among the class and Margot quickly becomes the outsider. It is unclear how they know to long for the Sun. Their parents? Teachers? Biology? In a surge of vindictive mob mentality, they lock her in a closet right before the Sun is set to emerge. Deprived of the sun, the children become depraved. “They stood looking at the door and saw it tremble from her beating and throwing herself against it. They heard her muffled cries.”
We have so little character development or backstory aside from Margot, that this moment comes both quickly and agonizingly. Hardly any of her classmates even have names, and the teacher is largely absent. In contrast, Bradbury delves deeply into the florid descriptions of the physical and aural world. We do not forget about Margot, but experience a deep sense of injustice all the more because we see the richness of what she is missing.
It was as if, in the midst of a film concerning an avalanche, a tornado, a hurricane, a volcanic eruption, something had, first, gone wrong with the sound apparatus, thus muffling and finally cutting off all noise, all of the blasts and repercussions and thunders, and then, second, ripped the film from the projector and inserted in its place a beautiful tropical slide which did not move or tremor… The silence was so immense and unbelievable that you felt your ears had been stuffed… The door slid back and the smell of the silent, waiting world came into them. The Sun came out.
Two hours later, inevitably, it begins to rain, accompanied by howls of grief from the children. It will be seven more years before the Sun reemerges.
If the Sun symbolizes growth and life then it’s absence is a stagnation and death. Venus is a dead place with a savage social code. With the Sun temporarily restoring the physical world, it seems there’s a somewhat redemptive effect on the children’s morality. They look down on themselves with a sense of shame that hadn’t occurred to them earlier and head back to the closet.
Behind the closet door was only silence. They unlocked the door, even more slowly, and let Margot out.
The silence which once meant sunshine, now Bradbury leaves us with to contemplate what happens next.
Read “All Summer in a Day”
Listen to “All Summer in a Day”