Sound of Thunder: the Profound Impact of Small Choices in Bradbury’s Narrative

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Updated: Sep 04, 2023
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Sound of Thunder: The Butterfly Effect

In A Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury emphasizes the significance of all events and acts, demonstrating that everything has a purpose and that even the most minor mistakes can profoundly impact the Path of history. Cause and effect is the term to look at in this short story. In 2055, Eckels is a man on a prehistoric hunting trip. However, by accidentally crushing a butterfly underfoot 65 million years ago, he returns to a present vastly different from the one he left behind.

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Small actions can have far-reaching consequences, and the story, like much of Bradbury’s work, condemns the arrogant use of ever-powerful technology in a world that humans do not entirely comprehend. The narrative shows the tight connection between the past, present, and future and eventually argues that every action, no matter how tiny, has consequences, with Ray Bradbury underlining the dramatic implications of something as seemingly commonplace as crushing a butterfly eons ago.

Analysis: The Interconnected Web of Life

In order to reinforce this point, both Bradbury’s third-person narrator and Travis, the story’s central moral voice, emphasize the linked nature of all living things on many occasions throughout the story. For example, while searching for the Tyrannosaurus in the narrative, Eckels expresses his confusion about the regulations after hearing the order from Travis, his tour guide, who stresses the importance of staying on the Path and not shooting any animals they are not okay with.

This forces Travis to dive into a lengthy explanation. His speech contains a complete list of potential mistakes and their consequences, such as stepping on a mouse and destroying a future food chain. Because the natural world is a fragile ecosystem in which every species, no matter how little, plays a role: if mice die, foxes will die; if foxes die, lions will starve; and if lions die, vultures and insects that feed on a lion’s carcass will perish. He goes on to say that crushing even the tiniest living thing could break ecological equilibrium and have consequences for the future of the environment and human society. Throughout the conversation, Eckels takes a little aggressive stance, questioning Travis’s causality. The caution against killing ‘an important animal, a small bird, or a roach’ foreshadows the mistake on which the entire logic of the story hinges: the crushing of a single butterfly (Bradbury).

Socio-political Repercussions and Eckels’ Misjudgment

Even social and political events may end up taking an unexpected turn. The presidential election represents a classic conflict between American democracy and authoritarian governments. In the beginning, Keith won the Presidential election against the other candidate, Deutscher. Deutscher is a name similar to Deutschland, a German name for German. Interestingly, Deutscher, a ‘militarist, anti-Christ, anti-human, anti-intellectual’ who would have enforced dictatorship, resembles the Nazis (Bradbury). Note that Bradbury’s story was written just seven years after the end of World War II.

The election’s result is a metaphor for the Nazis recently being defeated in the war. Given this, one wonders what the ‘chemical taint’ in the air is when the guys return to their present. Maybe it is because the war never ended, as the Nazis won WWII, and the smell remains after the nuclear war. The reaction toward the candidates of the nameless guy sitting in front of the company’s office also changes.

Eckels is an avid hunter with money to spend, and his personality is a ticking bomb for what will happen on their hunting trip. Before the hunt begins, the agent’s warnings about the dangers of the hunt provoke Eckels. Ironically, he jokes that if the election had turned out differently, he would be rushing away to the past, foreshadowing how his journey would alter history. Bradbury describes Eckels as ‘his face pale, his jaw stiff. He felt the trembling in his arms, and he looked down and found his hands tight on the new rifle’. Eckels also believed that his money would fix all of his troubles. He tries to bribe Travis with a $100,000 check after failing to shoot the dinosaur and running back to the time machine.

This makes Eckels appear foolish, as if he is unaware of the actual repercussions of his actions, and believes that his money can fix the complex problem he has entangled the party. Unprepared and frightened upon encountering the Tyrannosaurus, Eckels’ fear of death pushes him to ignore nature’s delicate balance and the unforeseen effects of his influence on the forest, only to step on a butterfly that changes the future. After realizing the significance of his actions, Eckels wants to travel back in time and correct his error. However, as the remainder of the story has demonstrated, even time travel cannot transcend death and achieve complete control throughout events.

Bradbury’s Metaphorical Landscape

Bradbury plays around with many images as metaphors. The butterfly that Eckels accidentally stepped on may also indicate the butterfly’s effect, a principle first described as sensitive dependence on initial conditions, based on a famous paper published by renowned meteorologist Dr. Edward Norton Lorenz (Hoffman). It may be applied to the plot of ‘A Sound of Thunder’ retrospectively.

The sound of thunder is mentioned multiple times throughout the story. One is the sound created by the Tyrannosaurus as it storms through the prehistoric terrain; another is the sound of the gunshot made by Travis when he kills Eckel at the end of the story. Even if the dinosaur is bound to die, the way the gunshot kills it has triggered the butterfly’s effect. In the future, Travis kills Eckels for his mistake and to cover the evidence. The death of a tyrannosaurus leads to the end of a man.

As Hoffman remarked in her introduction to A Sound of Thunder, the novel opens in 2055, over a century after Bradbury’s time; Bradbury allows readers to envision moving through the centuries.


  1. Bradbury, R. (1952). A Sound of Thunder. In R. Bradbury, The Golden Apples of the Sun (pp. 1-32). Doubleday.
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Sound of Thunder: The Profound Impact of Small Choices in Bradbury's Narrative. (2023, Sep 04). Retrieved from