“All Summer in a Day”
For “Week 17” of the Deal Me In 2014 Short Story Reading Challenge, I drew the four of diamonds, which I had assigned to a story I’ve really been looking forward to reading, Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day.” The director of The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies here in Indianapolis had tantalizingly summarized it for me one day after a meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s book club, so I added it to my DMI2014 roster and have been waiting patiently “all year.” I’ve mentioned before that he has a knack for telling one the gist of a Bradbury story such that one really wants to read it (e.g. The Crowd, which I blogged about before). All he said about “All Summer in a Day” was that it was set on a world where summer lasts only a couple hours and comes only once every seven years, and a bunch of schoolkids lock a classmate in a closet so that she misses it.
The planet in this story is Venus. It seems amusing to us now, with our current knowledge of that world, with its crushing atmospheric pressure and sulfuric acid rain, that it was once imagined to be swampy and jungle-like. Bradbury had not the advantage of this knowledge when he was writing stories like this and “The Long Rain” (also set on a wet, rain forest-y Venus). In this current story, Venus has been colonized by Earthmen in spite of its meteorological shortcomings.
The story is joined with the colonists on the brink of experiencing one of their rare “summers” – a time when the sun comes out if for only an hour – and centers around one of the more recent colonists, Margot. She’s a nine year-old student in a school where she suffers the worst affliction of that age – being different. While she grew up on Earth, her classmates have all grown up on Venus and don’t know what it’s like to have frequent sunshine. When the sun does shine on Venus every seventh year, it is only just briefly.
Margot writes a poignant poem for class:
“I think the sun is a flower,
That blooms for just one hour”
Her classmates are jealous of her poem and accuse her of not writing it herself. The other children don’t like Margot for, as Bradbury says, “reasons of big and little consequence”
“There was talk that her father and mother were taking her back to Earth next year; it seemed vital to her that they do so, though it would mean the loss of thousands of dollars to her family. And so, the children hated her for all these reasons of big and little consequence. They hated her pale snow face, her waiting silence, her thinness, and her possible future.”
First the other kids, crowded expectantly by the classroom windows waiting for the first glimpse of the sun, try tormenting Margot by saying that “it was all just a joke” and that the sun isn’t really going to make its appearance that day. The “scientists were wrong.” When she protests, one boy suggests they lock her in the closet “before teacher returns.” Swept away by that peculiar, unfeeling cruelty that children alone seem masters of, they carry out their plan…
Bradbury includes some great description of the effect of this rare summer event on the planet and its life forms, but for me the story was about the feelings it elicited. The despair of Margot, the realization of the other children of the magnitude of what they’ve done (or do they?). Only four pages, it’s a story you should certainly make time to read.
I don’t know if it’s an “authorized” site, but I did find this story online at http://staff.esuhsd.org/danielle/English%20Department%20LVillage/RT/Short%20Stories/All%20Summer%20in%20a%20Day.pdf
Watch a film version of the story (but READ it first, the film takes too many liberties imho) on YouTube (thanks, Megan)
(below: The Planet Venus – the un-colonize-able version)