43 pages 1 hour read

Ray Bradbury

A Sound Of Thunder

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1952

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

Summary and Study Guide

Summary: “A Sound of Thunder”

Ray Bradbury’s short story “A Sound of Thunder” was first published in Collier’s magazine on June 28, 1952 and was later reprinted in his 1953 short story collection A Golden Apple in the Sun. It was adapted into a comic book, 2005 film, and made into a video game. In this science fiction story, the Time Safari time travel agency brings hunters back in time to hunt now-extinct animals for a fee of several thousand dollars.

The story opens with the customer, Eckels, standing at the front desk of Time Safari, waiting to be taken back in time to hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex. As he hands over his check for $10,000, he asks whether his survival during the journey is guaranteed, to which the official beyond the desk answers that nothing is guaranteed; he must obey directions strictly, as there are numerous rules for how the members of the hunting party must behave. They must, above all, listen to Travis, their safari leader. Eckels remarks on how glad he is that Keith has won last night’s election, instead of the tyrannical and dictatorial Deutscher. He points out that he may have tried to escape back in time had Deutscher won. The man behind the counter agrees that Deutscher’s victory would have been a disaster, describing him as “anti-everything” (104). As Eckels signs the waiver forms, the official tries to scare him, explaining that six safari leaders and 12 hunters had died the year before.

Eckels meets Travis, the safari leader, his assistant, Lesperance, and two other hunters named Billings and Kramer. They all enter the time machine with guns, helmets, and oxygen masks to prevent them from introducing bacteria into the air. The machine brings them back in time. While they wait to arrive over 62 million years in the past, Eckels is very excited and nervous about what they are about to do.

While they journey to the past, Travis explains that the hunters may only shoot when instructed and that they are forbidden from touching anything during their stay. When Eckels asks about this rule, Travis responds gravely that the interruption of any natural processes occurring in the past could have devastating impacts on the course of future events. What is more, the government keeps Time Safari on a tight leash and closely monitors their activities. Even the effects of killing a mouse could ricochet out and cause a caveman to starve and from there prevent the pyramids from being built. As Travis explains, “step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity” (109).

They exit the machine, and Travis points out the long path of anti-gravity metal that extends into the jungle, hovering six inches off the ground. As they set off on the path, Eckels learns that Lesperance has tracked down the Tyrannosaurus Rex on a previous trip. This animal was going to die anyway no more than two minutes after they kill it, so they leave the past as close to how it should naturally be as possible.

As the dinosaur comes into view, enormous, strong, and hungry, Eckels begins to panic and doubts his decision to come at all. Travis instructs him to go back to the machine as the others begin to shoot. The dinosaur is huge and terrible. Its death makes a sound like thunder. Finally, they kill it. Soon after, a tree branch falls on it—the dinosaur's scheduled death.

The others make their way back to the time machine, and Travis is furious at Eckels, proclaiming that they cannot take him back to the future after some mud on his boots reveals that he has stepped off the path. After Lesperance and Travis argue over his fate, Eckels is finally ordered to retrieve the bullets from the dinosaur’s corpse. He returns with the bullets, arms bloodied, and the party goes home.

When they arrive, Travis asks the man behind the desk if everything is okay, and the man reassures him everything is fine. Eckels notices that things are subtly but indescribably different, and a sign on the wall has words spelled differently. Eckels begins to panic after seeing how his actions have changed things. He inspects his shoes and finds, imbedded in the mud, a gold and black butterfly. He asks the officer who has won the election, and he replies that it is Deutscher. Eckels begs to be sent back to the past to undo his actions, but Travis enters the room, and a “sound of thunder” (122) is heard as Travis kills Eckels.