Happy Solstice!

American author Ray Bradbury is widely known for his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, a controversial piece about government censorship which was made even more controversial by the fact that it was composed during a period of cultural conformity where everyone feared being branded a Communist. Perhaps less well-known is a short story composed by him titled “All Summer in a Day”, set on the planet Venus which was believed at the time to be a hot tropical planet covered by dense rainforests. Bradbury’s short story paints a picture of a rainy planet where the sun only came out once for a brief period between several years of cold, dreary weather. The appearance of the Sun was such an important event that schools on Venus would even let their children out of class so that they could enjoy the sunlight.

The protagonist of this story was a girl named Margot who was born on Earth and had faint memories of what it was like to be bathed in sunshine, but immigrated with her parents to Venus and was treated as an outsider by her classmates. On the day when the Sun was predicted to make its appearance, she was explicitly prevented from going outside by her classmates who locked her in a closet for the duration of their recess. Anyone with a little bit of knowledge of biological science will tell you that the whole idea of letting kids out of class to see the Sun doesn’t make much sense– after all, if you did live on a cloudy planet where the sun only came out once in a few years, you eventually lose your resistance to UV radiation and make yourself vulnerable to skin cancer when you are exposed to sunlight.

The real value of this story comes from its role as social commentary: in addition to the topic of anti-immigrant sentiment, which would have experienced a resurgence during time the story was written, it is also an allegory for LGBT rights. As discussed previously in the posts on conservative feminism, Margot represents the out-group and is prohibited from the activities enjoyed by native Venusian children. However, also discussed in the posts on conservative feminism is the idea of sustainability– because disasters cause attrition among the in-group, systems that rely on conservative feminism eventually collapse and devolve into radical feminism, as evidenced by Margot’s isolation, which can be seen as an incident of overt prejudice against Earthlings and LGBT individuals.


Anti-Japanese sentiment was widespread during and after World War 2. It continued until George Takei was cast in a leading role in Star Trek.

The great Russian author Vladimir Nabokov is attributed with the saying “all reading is re-reading”; many times, the true meaning of a story can only be arrived at by reinterpreting it in light of the experiences that one has gone through during the course of their life. Margot’s classmates eventually come to regret their decision to lock her in the closet, and make it up to her by giving her flowers that bloomed when the Sun did come out. As is the case with most forms of injustice, the in-group often makes concessions to marginalized communities as a way of maintaining the stability of the existing social order. The flowers represent a token offering to indicate that Margot had not been completely rejected by Venusian society, and was encouraged to participate in it in spite of what was done to her.

This story represents a classic case of paleoliberalism, which is when people engage in an activity that is otherwise immoral with the intention of achieving a positive outcome. Let’s face it, adolescent rites of passage are no laughing matter– it’s like going through a gang initiation rite, which often involves sex and violence. Once you’re in, you have no shot at escaping and it’ll have a serious impact on your ability to deal with outsiders. The children most likely had an understanding of the effect that seeing the Sun would have on their development, and needed a way to ease the burden that UV exposure would have on them later in life. By isolating Margot, who was also losing her UV resistance by staying on Venus, they would have a healthy individual to look after them when they started feeling the effects of skin cancer.

With this alternative explanation in mind, the children’s strategy does not look significantly better– after all, Margot now becomes a single point of failure in the Venusian healthcare system. Bradbury’s short story was most likely a concession that was being extended to minorities to help them endure discrimination during the conformist postwar culture. One very common use of paleoliberalism is to prevent out-groups from rising up against the in-group; in patriarchal societies, paleoliberalism is used by married women to prevent children from rebelling against their fathers.

References

  • The end of a televised version of All Summer in a Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQfWno_DuB0
  • Paul Robeson’s Speech Before the House Un-American Activities Council: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6440/. A less well-known figure of the Civil Rights Movement, Robeson was openly critical of US foreign policy during the Cold War which promoted freedom overseas while simultaneously denying basic human rights to its own citizens.
  • Rise! The Road to Civil Rights (1940-1968), episode from the PBS miniseries African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/video/#702 Discusses the case of Paul Robeson in greater detail; may require a subscription to WETA Passport.
  • NIH web page on Basal Cell Carcinoma, the initial stage of skin cancer: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024883/. Higher levels of melanin protect people of color from the initial stages of skin cancer; however, when they do get skin cancer, it appears in the later stages, such as squamous cell cancer.