The story opens with a clock announcing that it is time to wake up and a hint of premonition that perhaps no one will. In the kitchen, the stove cooks breakfast and a voice from the ceiling announces the setting: Allendale, California, on August 4, 2026. The automated house prepares itself for the day, but its inhabitants have not responded to several wake up calls, breakfast, the weather box, or the waiting car. The robotic mice finish cleaning the house, and it is revealed that the family who lived in the house — two parents, a daughter and son — have died. They are now “five spots of paint” against a house covered with a “thin charcoal layer.” The city is in rubble and the “radioactive glow” emitted in the area indicates that an atomic blast has wiped out Allendale, if not the world. The family dog returns to the house and is let in by the front door which recognizes the dog’s whine. He is alive but injured from the bomb. Covered with mud he enters the house, and the robotic cleaning mice are annoyed that they will need to clean up after him. The narrator explains that all dust and debris is cleaned by the mice and fed into an incinerator which sits “like evil Baal,” a reference to the heathen god of the Old Testament and Satan’s chief lieutenant in Paradise Lost by Dante. Within an hour the dog is dead, presumably from radiation poisoning. Afternoon settles in and the house continues its routine. A card table is set up, drinks are poured, the nursery transforms into a jungle scene. The stove prepares a dinner that will not be eaten and a faceless voice begins to read a poem by Sara Teasdale, an American poet who killed herself in 1933. The poem tells of a soft rain that falls while nature circles, shimmers, and sings, amidst a war that neither birds nor frogs care about — even if all the people die. At the poem’s end, a wind comes up, spills a bottle, and starts a fire that quickly engulfs the house. Mechanical mice and faucets come to the rescue, but the fire prevails. The voices within the house begin to die and the house implodes. All that remains is “smoke and silence.” Dawn appears, and one last, lone mechanical voice announces the new day: August 5, 2026
“There Will Come Soft Rains” is an unusual story in that it contains no human characters. However, because of its anthropomorphic characteristics — its ability to act on its own — the house itself is a character. It continues to function even after the world around it has been destroyed. Although not specifically stated in the story, it is implied that all human life on earth has been obliterated. All that remain are shadowy silhouettes of figures burned into the side of the house by the blast of the bomb. The house is computerized and has been programmed to proceed with its routine without the intervention of a human being. The computer wakes the house’s inhabitants up from their sleep, it cooks the family’s meals, cleans the house, and even sets up the card table for the regular bridge game. The house is efficient, dependable, and well-programmed. This is ironic, though, because without the people there, all these functions serve no purpose. The meals go uneaten, there is no one to play the card game, and no one listens when the computer reads the poem from which the story takes it name, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” by Sara Teasdale. Thus, the house is dutiful but also rigid and unchanging. The house is also characterized by the “cleaning mice,” who are somewhat annoyed by the mess made by the dog. This animal arrives at the house sick with radiation poisoning and tracks mud into the house. The agony of the dying dog is not acknowledged by the cleaning mice; they express only annoyance when forced to clean up its mess. This is also ironic because it demonstrates the inability of the house to sympathize and its sense of exasperation, normally human emotions. When the wind blows a tree branch...