by Ray Bradbury
Betty Crocker of the Future
Unlike George, Lydia doesn't change too much throughout the story. But that's okay because she starts off as the perfect mom. Or at least, what the 1950s thought was perfect for a mom. (Today's perfect mom is better at video games than you.)
Poor Lydia is very emotional, which lets George be the sensible man of the house. Most of her dialogue has some emotional aspect or is marked as emotional. She calls the vultures "filthy," which is a stronger emotional reaction to the virtual reality nursery than anything George has at the beginning of the story (18). Or when she asks if George is sure about what the lions are eating, she is "peculiarly tense" (22).
By the time you read the end of the story, you might think that she's peculiarly tense because her kids and her house want to kill her. But when you first read the story you might just say, "oh, those emotional 1950s housewives" and tell her to take a chill pill, which in the '50s was Valium.
Wife and Mom
One of Lydia's shining moments comes at the beginning of the story when she explains to George why she's so unhappy with their fancy house:
"The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub bath can? I cannot." (56)
Lydia wants to do things for the family. She's a mom. So her beef isn't with the nursery per se. She's really upset because all the little devices were supposed to make their lives easier. But instead gadgets like the "automatic scrub bath" make her feel useless. She's like someone who just lost her job because there's a new robot that can do it better.
And if we remember that all Lydia wants is to be a good mother and wife, then maybe we can better understand her second shining moment, which comes when she argues with George about turning on the nursery at the end of the story.
At first, this scene might not make sense. Lydia spends most of this story worrying about the nursery: she's "tense" about Africa (22), she's worried that the lions might get out (60), she worries that Peter changed the nursery somehow (89). So why, at the end of the story, does she do a 180 and ask George to turn the nursery on?
Maybe she's a softie at heart, who'll give in to the kids when they make an emotional demand on her. When the kids are really throwing a tantrum over the nursery, she tells George that he's being too "abrupt" and "cruel" (226, 228), which totally makes her seem like, well, a pushover.
When she tells him that just a little bit more nursery won't hurt, she's playing the classic 1950s role of wife and mother. She's the middleman between the law-giving father and the law-breaking kids. And that's what the 1950s thought a wife and mother should be: devoted to working for the husband and the kids. Her job is to keep the peace in the house.
We think it's pretty clear at this point that Lydia is a stereotypical 1950s housewife. She doesn't really change and she doesn't get credit for being right at first about the nursery being creepy. (George is only convinced by the male psychologist, not by his wife.) Plus, the fact that she's the one who wants to give in to the kids and turn the nursery on again pretty much wipes out any credit she earned for being right in the first place. And unlike George, Lydia doesn't ever get to tell us her thoughts. She's too busy being ignored, disregarded, and emotional.
Let's be honest. Poor Lydia has gotten seriously shortchanged as a character. But she does serve one very important purpose: she's a foil for George. She's nervous when he's calm, indulgent to the kids when he stays firm. In other words, this really is not her story, and when she does get a scene or two, it's to highlight George's role as the father.
What's in a Name?
Everyone else in the Hadley family has a name straight out of Peter Pan, except for Lydia. We really don't know why she's named Lydia. Why not Betty or Sue or the Amazing Malini? Honestly, we don't know.
But we have a theory about why her name doesn't come from Peter Pan, and it has to do with the fact that she's not entirely on anyone's side. If she were on her husband's side, she might be named Mary, which is the name of the mother in Peter Pan. But she's never 100% Team George. When he's cool with the nursery, she's freaked; when he's anti-technology, she says just one more minute. And if she were on the kids' side, we might expect her to be named after one of the Lost Boys or maybe even Tinkerbell (okay, maybe not). But she's not really Team Kids either.Timeline