by Ray Bradbury
Father Knows Best?
George Hadley is a typical husband and father for the 1950s—or what the 1950s thinks a husband/father should be. Think of him as Mr. Cleaver, only not so winsome:
A) He wants his family to have nice stuff.
B) But he's too busy working to really see what's going on at home. Bradbury tells us that George smelled the lions' scent "seeping as far away as his study door," which hints that he spent a lot of his time in his study rather than, say, with his family (72). And if we miss that hint, the next line comes out and tells us, "being busy, he had paid it no attention."
C) He's less nervous than his wife. For example, when the nursery isn't working, George says that it's probably broken, while Lydia worries that the kids did something to it because they're dangerous kids (83-85).
D) And they sleep in separate beds. (If you ever watch old TV, married couples sleep in separate beds all the time. It might seem odd to us, but people didn't want any hint of sex on the TV or in their fiction. See "Steaminess Rating.")
Father Knows Least
But George is also, in many ways, the worst father that the 1950s could imagine. He's weak and ineffective. His kids are in control of the house and they're an inch away from being juvenile delinquents.
For instance, when Lydia begs him to lock the nursery, George says, "You know how difficult Peter is about that" (45). Gee, it sure sounds like Peter's in charge. And when he does lock the nursery, he does so "Reluctantly" (47). It's hard to imagine George doing something decisively at this point in the story. This is a guy who is not very good at being in charge. And according to his wife, he smokes too much, he drinks too much, he takes too many sedatives to sleep (58). This weak father is taking drugs just to get through his day? Sounds like a real winner.
At the beginning of the story, that's the George we meet. He's a typical 1950s husband in some ways and a total nightmare in other ways. Imagine reading this story if you were a husband in the 1950s. You might pick this story up, see some things that you relate to ("I'm not as nervous as my wife") and then see some things that you don't want to relate to ("am I in control of my kids?").
Father Can Learn?
But by the end of the story, George has totally changed. In fact, if "The Veldt" were just George's story, we might say it has a happy ending because George changes for the better, right? He starts out not being able to control his kids, but he learns how to discipline them. He starts out madly in love with all the fabulous new technologies in this house; but then he realizes how bad these gadgets really are.
Of course, then he gets eaten by lions. (Or does he? Yes. Or does he? No. Well, maybe. You'll just have to read our section "What's Up with the Ending?" and decide for yourself.)
But whether or not he's lion chow, George is still the hero. He's the one who gets to make the big decision and change for the better. It just might be too little too late.
Whereas in the beginning of the story, he worries that Peter will throw a tantrum, by the end of the story, when the kids throw a tantrum, he holds firm to his authoritah. Whereas before he locked the nursery "Reluctantly," now he "marched about the house turning off the voice clocks, the stoves," and the rest of the gadgets (230). That "marched" sure makes it sound like he's firmly in control. Too bad the lions don't listen.
Let's Get Some Deets…
… oh wait, there aren't any. "The Veldt" never tells us George's race. Or age or height or eye color. There is so much that we don't know about the guy. Bradbury could've easily thrown in a detail or two, but he left them out, and we're thinking there could be a reason. For one, anybody reading this can imagine being George, as long as you're a dude and a father. (And frankly, dudes and fathers were highly likely to be reading the Saturday Evening Post.) Secondly, this lack of detail helps us focus on what we do know about George, like his not-so-good relationships to family and technology.
What's in a Name?
We weren't sure about George's name at first. After all, lots of people are named George. But then we remembered that Peter and Wendy are named after the children in Peter Pan and the dad in that story is named—you guessed it—George.
Maybe this George is supposed to remind us of that George? If we remember correctly, that George sends his kids to the nursery, just like this George. And—check this out—in the play version, the actor who plays father George also plays evil Captain Hook, who gets eaten by a crocodile.
Okay, so this George is not an exact copy of Peter Pan's George. But there are enough parallels between Peter Pan and "The Veldt" to make us think about this connection. Is George (in "The Veldt") too much like Captain Hook, always menacing his children? Or is he not enough like Captain Hook? Do you think that he should threaten his children more?Timeline