by Ray Bradbury
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The nursery in "The Veldt" isn't just an awesome virtual reality room where parents can park their kids. If it were, we would totally want one in our house. Maybe. But the nursery in "The Veldt" is basically the scariest room that has ever existed.
We've already discussed (in "In a Nutshell") how the nursery may be a symbol for television, the hot new toy of the 1950s: it's entertaining and useful, sure, but it can be a little scary and new, too.
But according to Lydia and George, the nursery is also an example of what's gone wrong with their technology-focused lives. Lydia may start off worried about the nursery, but she's also worried about the automated house in general. The nursery takes care of the kids and the house takes care of itself, so what's she supposed to do?
At the end of the story, George agrees with Lydia (a little too late) about the nursery and their gadgets. When George turns off the nursery, he also goes around and turns off all the rest of their doohickeys. Let's put it this way: for George, the nursery is just one symptom of a disease called technology (229).
See, the problem is, the nursery and the rest of their technology not only replace the parents, but also mess up the family dynamic on the whole. Technology puts the kids in charge, like when they "televise" to say that they're not coming home for dinner (63). And the parents are treated like children by the house, which cooks and cleans for them, but also tries to comfort them (48) and rock them to sleep (150).
All of this is to say that technology is evil in this story, right? Hmm. We're not so sure. It might be a little more complicated. Take David McClean as an example: he tells George that they should turn off the whole house, especially the nursery because it's being used for "destructive thoughts." But he goes on to tell George that he never likes these nurseries—"never" meaning that even when they're working correctly he doesn't like them. He even calls them "damned rooms" (208), and anything "damned" isn't safe for the family. So, since David is kind of an expert, we might trust him here and say "technology = evil."
Not so fast, though. Remember that David is coming back to take the Hadleys to the airport. That means David thinks planes are a-okay. (Maybe he's rich and doesn't have to fly coach like the rest of us.) So the nursery and automated house are bad bad bad, but a plane is totally cool in David's book? What, exactly, are we supposed to take away from this mixed message? The story probably isn't saying that all technology is evil since David a) is the expert and b) likes some technology.
But if not all technology is evil, why is the nursery such bad news? Are we supposed to think that too much tech is dangerous? Or that it's all about how we use it? Maybe the nursery wouldn't be so bad if the kids had proper parents and didn't overuse its virtual reality. Or maybe the nursery is bad news in the first place because it allows the kids to escape their true reality and create their own (horrifying) one. Whatever the case, it's clear that there are lots of ways to go on this one. The treatment of technology in "The Veldt" is anything but cut and dried.
P.S. There's also something to the fact that this room is called a nursery, right? A nursery is a place where children are taken care of by their parents or other trusted adults. But who's nursing in this nursery? A computer. A robot. The room itself. Lydia, the one who should be in the nursery (according to those 1950s standards of child rearing), is slowly being replaced by a big, bad, soulless technology. Yowza.