I’m sure we can all agree that it’s not fun to play against a cheater. When you’re playing a game and someone breaks a rule, it negatively impacts the experience for everyone in some way. Well, A Sound of Thunder, by Ray Bradbury, is about a group of people who are going back in time to hunt down a T-Rex for the sport. There are very specific rules created for the sake of not screwing up the present, but that doesn’t stop the main character, Eckels, from doing it anyway.
In the story A Sound of Thunder, the author believes that rule should not be broken, and that they’re there for a reason. This is demonstrated when the main character, Eckels, completely ignores the rules, and gets punished accordingly. Mr. Travis, the safari guide, explains to Eckels why they must stay on the designated path and why they must not kill anything other than the dinosaur.
“‘…But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region. By stepping on one single mouse. So the cave man starves. And the cave man, please note, is not just any expendable man, no! He is an entire future nation. From his loins would have sprung ten sons. From their loins one hundred sons, and thus onward to a civilization. Destroy this one man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life.’” (Bradbury 4).
Even though Mr. Travis straight up tells Eckels the potential crisis he could create by breaking the rules, Eckels still seems to be completely oblivious to all of it when he “Balanced on the narrow Path, [and] aimed his rifle playfully.” (Bradbury 7).
The fact that Eckels doesn’t take the rules seriously is further reinforced when he steps off the path when the T-Rex freaks him out.
“Eckels, not looking back, walked blindly to the edge of the Path, his gun limp in his arms, stepped off the Path, and walked, not knowing it, in the jungle. His feet sank into green moss. “(Bradbury 9)
Then, after the climax where the T-Rex was slain, when everyone returns to the time machine, hoping that nothing changed, Eckels says the following:
“’Don’t look at me,’ cried Eckels. ‘I haven’t done anything… Just ran off the Path, that’s all, a little mud on my shoes—what do you want me to do—get down and pray?’”
All this demonstrates Eckels’ complete disregard for the rules and makes it clear that he isn’t taking them seriously. As the story builds up to its climax, and even a bit after the climax, Eckels is testing the rules’ values, and because he kicks the rules around as he does, the consequences kick right back. “Eckels felt himself fall into a chair. He fumbled crazily at the thick slime on his boots. He held up a clod of dirt… Embedded in the mud… was a butterfly, very beautiful and very dead.” (Bradbury 15).
As Eckels begins to panic, he asks someone a question regarding the results of the election.
The man behind the desk laughed. ‘You joking? You know very well. Deutscher, of course! Who else? Not that fool weakling Keith. We got an iron man now, a man with guts…’” (Bradbury 15).
To put in some context, at the beginning of the story, a man named Keith had just won the election, and Deutscher was apparently some sort of dictator. However, since Eckels stepped on one butterfly he knocked down a bunch of dominoes, slowly increasing in size, “all down the years across Time.” (Bradbury 15). This all lead down to the change of the election winner, just because Eckels couldn’t follow one rule. This, however, is not the last punishment Eckels will receive. Whenever someone commits a crime, they must be punished themselves because of the suffering they caused for others.
“He did not move. Eyes shut, he waited, shivering. He heard Travis breathe loud in the room; he heard Travis shift his rifle, click the safety catch, and raise the weapon. There was a sound of thunder.” (Bradbury 15).
The reader can infer that they time traveled back in time, to before Eckels entered the time machine and killed him. By doing so they prevent him from entering the time machine and messing up the world. Unfortunately, this also, obviously, means that Eckels himself will die. This is his last punishment.
A Sound of Thunder is a story about an ignorant time-travelling-hunter unwilling to follow the rules, and, in the end, screws up time because of that. Eckels gets no happy ending, because the author wants to teach the lesson through the consequence of not learning from it. Now, obviously, cheating in a board game, isn’t going to be punished by death. However, that rule is there for a reason, and there are consequences for breaking it.
Read A Sound of Thunder here.
Learn more about the author, Ray Bradbury, here.
(Image from here)