by Ray Bradbury
We have to start with David McClean's name because, in case you hadn't noticed, his name includes the word "clean." In fact, that's almost all you need to know about David McClean: he's the doctor who is called to clean up the mess made by the parents.
(Bonus #1: "Mc" means "son of," so in a way, David McClean's name reminds us that this is a story about parents and children.)
(Bonus #2: Why "David"? We could be wrong, but it's possible he's named after David Livingstone, the famous explorer who went to Africa. Livingstone got lost in Africa and attacked by a lion, but he survived. Which fits this story, since our David is the only adult who does survive the veldt. (If you're curious, feel free to read more about Livingstone's experience, in his own words.)
We know so little about the characters in this story, but David McClean really takes the cake for being a big ol' blank. We know he's a psychologist and… that's about it. Well, let's add that he doesn't get scared easily about kids, as he explains to George that the last time he checked out the Hadley kids, he found only "the usual violences, a tendency toward a slight paranoia" (180). Parents might not like to hear about their kids' fantasy of violence, but it's all in a day's work for David McClean, walk-on expert. Note how he just tosses off that diagnosis of the violences being "usual" and the paranoia being "slight." David McClean is a calm doctor. We wish he were a little less so.
When the Calm Doctor Worries, You Should, Too
But even David can feel that this nursery is a little creepy now. As he tells George, he can feel the hatred in the room (203). (And since David is a dude and an expert, George will listen to him.) And when the lions turn to look at them, David quickly proposes that they adults leave the veldt and turn it off--immediately. So when a man who tosses off diagnoses of "usual violences" and "slight paranoia" says "this is creepy," we should probably perk up our ears.
And perk them up we do. In fact, David McClean gets some of the longest paragraph speeches in this short story. Because he's such an expert, what he says gets a serious listen from George (and probably from the readers, too). Lydia has her speech about feeling like she doesn't belong thanks to the machines at the beginning of the story; George has his speech at the end about how they're going to change their lives and get away from technology at the end of the story. And in between these two speeches, David gives his long, long diagnosis of the situation:
"Everything. Where before they had a Santa Claus now they have a Scrooge. Children prefer Santas. You've let this room and this house replace you and your wife in your children's affections. This room is their mother and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents. And now you come along and want to shut it off. No wonder there's hatred here. You can feel it coming out of the sky. Feel that sun. George, you'll have to change your life. Like too many others, you've built it around creature comforts. Why, you'd starve tomorrow if something went wrong in your kitchen. You wouldn't know how to tap an egg. Nevertheless, turn everything off. Start new. It'll take time. But we'll make good children out of bad in a year, wait and see." (203)
This is the longest paragraph of speech in the story, which is a sign that we should take it seriously. Plus, these are all statements. David doesn't ask questions (unlike Lydia and George). He's serious and very sure of himself.
Thankfully for us, David's speech also ties up a lot of the themes of this story: the parents' role in the family has been taken over by the machines; the tech gadgets have even ruined George's life by making him think the important things are "creature comforts." We even see how this one family may be a model for the whole society when David says that this is an issue that "too many others" face.
There you have it, Shmoopers. That's David McClean's role in this story: he walks on, acts all professional, makes his suggestion in the longest speech paragraph in the story (which we can boil down to "technology=evil"), and walks off.
What Are You a Doctor Of?
David McClean is a psychologist, here to diagnose the mental health of the Hadleys. And, if we may say so, he does a pretty good job of it, telling George that he's interested in feelings and that the nursery has become "a channel toward—destructive thoughts" (195). Destructive thoughts? Vague much? McClean probably knows that the kids are fantasizing about their parents dying, but he's not about to tell the adult Hadleys that. He's a professional who doesn't need to scare people more than necessary.
But David goes a little beyond basic psychology when he tells George "you'll have to change your life." That's squarely in Oprah life-coach territory. David was called in to check on the kids, but he's telling the parents that they need some help, too. The fact that David gives such all-encompassing advice in such a long paragraph makes this seem like the Major Lesson of this story. Could we go further and say that David McClean is telling us directly what Ray Bradbury really thinks about technology? Or is Shmoop being too presumptuous?Timeline