Ive always understood bradburys work and its meaning but know im stumped ( i guess being 13 not many of your friends know about ray) i didnt see the meaning or point to the playground. Please help me!!!!
Pleading ignorance here . . . What playground? What story/novel? In my doddering old age, I need more prompts/clues in order to assist!
"The Playground" is a Ray Bradbury short story which appears in the hardcover edition of "Fahrenheit 451" and in "The Stories of Ray Bradbury." I was going to read it again anyway on Thursday, but was too tired. I'll see how I do on Friday and post here as soon as I do reread it.
'The Playgound' is a wonderful little piece of urban horror. It nicely deflates the notion of childhood being a fun and happy time, and shows it to be a time of terror and helplessness. It's a sort of anti-nostalgia story, with one of the most terror-filled climaxes I can recall.
Okay, after having just read it again for the third time: "The Playground" falls into the category of the classic deal-with-the-devil-story, in which the devil generally comes out better than the dealmaker. Playgrounds are the sites and sources of so many negative energies and emotions, that in a place with the right vibes, the powers of darkness have taken up residence, in the "Manager's Office." The deal, at least in this case, cannot be made without strong feelings and good intentions on the part of the one entering the bargain. Although Tom hints that in some cases perhaps it was made by enticing people with falsely rosy memories to relive "happy" childhoods, this aspect is not explored, and wouldn't work with a deep thinker such as Charles Underhill. Underhill's need to protect his son Jim against life's hard knocks is so profound perhaps one would have to actually be a parent to fully understand it, so parental devotion is just as important a story element as childhood cruelty. Charles Underhill is also an example of a character struggling with going against the tide of life. Timothy in "From the Dust Returned" is just embarking on this struggle, the classic shining examples of which are Sim in "Frost and Fire" and Montag in "Fahrenheit 451." These characters willfully refuse to accept what others see as "the way things are." Of course they suffer for it, but if not for such visionaries everyone's sufferings would continue in the same pattern for generations. See Mr. Halloway's speech on this subject on page 144 (and the several chapters before and after) of "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Charles Underhill's flat response, "I don't like boys like that," to his sister's, "Boys are like that" is classic. For my part, I've found a second reading in later life often helps. One of several I did not get AT ALL at 13 was "Powerhouse." I read it again years later and it's now one of my favorites. They just strike you differently at different ages.
I love these web pages. I am forced to either read stories I've missed in my past readings (like this great story), or I am inspired to go back and read stories I haven't read in eons.
In another page in these Ray Bradbury sections, the question was asked about favorite characters. Underhill is certainly one of Bradbury's most intense characters. He is deeply reflective and quite self-aware. His brooding seems honest in that he challenges why he feels and thinks the way he does. He doesn't seem to lie to himself. He doesn't live in denial (at least as to his motives). He recognizes that his feelings about the playground and about his over-protective attitude toward Jim (his son) are not particularly healthy, but are driven by two things: (1) The death of his wife has left him frightened of losing Jim. The analogy he uses is that if you have two precious porcelain objects and one gets broken, you get protective of the other. The fact of the possibility of the remaining one breaking is compelling -- it is not just a theoretical risk. The loss has already been felt. (2) His own remembrances of his own childhood are horrible and he doesn't want Jim to have to suffer that.
"Underhill walked in the midnight rooms of his house thinking of all this, of himself, of the son, the Playground, the fear: there was no part of it he did not touch and turn over with his mind. How much, he asked himself, how much of this is being alone, how much due to Ann's dying, how much to my need and how much is the reality of the Playground itself, and the children?"
The character at least borders on mental instability. Underhill is living in a very "razor's edge" kind of world. And he knows it:
"How much rational and how much nonsense? He twitched the delicate weights upon the scale and watched the indicator glide and fix and glide again, back and forth, softly, between midnight and dawn, between black and white, between raw sanity and naked insanity. He should not hold so tight, he should let his hands drop away from the boy, And yet . . ."
His world is one of instability. His mind is like a scale that won't settle down. He recognizes that, at some level, he has lost it with the death of his wife. The "shoulds" are efforts to control the instability. This is something fundamentalists often do -- stress the "shoulds" of life. It is not that fundamentalists are mean or even narrow-minded, necessarily; it is just that "shoulds" are one way of dealing with uncertainty. The "shoulds" provide something stable -- at least in theory. Underhill is clearly waffling on which world he is going to live in . . . a world of "naked insanity" or a world of certainty.
This is definitely a dark story for Bradbury. Underhill's instability. The unredemptive evil in the playground. The marginalization of Carol -- a voice of realism and reason -- a voice that Underhill, in his rational, reflective moments, recognizes is right. But he can't stablilize on that recognition.
In some of Bradbury's stories, self-sacrificing acts are rewarded and viewed as good. One of the dark elements of this story is that at the end, Underhill sees this as hell. There is no hint that Jim (now in Underhill's body) recognizes or is grateful for Underhill's sacrifice. There is no emotion there (as there is in "Something Wicked this way Comes -- where Will and his father clearly love each other). In this story, there is no relationship between the father and the son that is defined at all. To me, this is one of the sad elements of the story. Has Underhill's sacrifice done any good at all? Does Jim recognize/appreciate it at any level?
Another dark element is where Underhill sees this as hell. He doesn't close with a good feeling in his heart that he has make this noble sacrifice and he can find meaning in his suffering. Here is the end:
"This is hell, he thought, This is hell! And no one in the hot, milling heap contradicted him."
Also, the role played by the Marshall boy is interesting, as he provides no redempive element either. When Underhill has made the change, Marshall punches him smack in the face. There is no "reward" for how noble his act is -- even though we presume Marshall did this for "the good of his son", also. There is nothing redempive about self-sacrifice in this story. This is a dark element that seems to be quite depressing. Marshall says earlier that Underhill will recognize the children who are former parents by the looks in their eyes. That look, according to the ending of the story, is perhaps a look of horror, rather than a look of maturity. Perhaps the resentment created by a self-sacrifice that is not appreciated or that does not bring inner peace/satisfaction is what creates the violence in the playground.
I also think Bradbury choses the playground as a setting for what is essentially a horror story because playgrounds generally represent the carefree nature of childhood. It has now become a hell that crushes the idea of the redempive power of self-sacrifice.
A great story.
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