Ray of Light
By Rakesh Satyal
The passing of Ray Bradbury has helped me to recognize a latent but very powerful sentiment that I’ve owned like a literary antique – the fact that my favorite story of his, “All Summer in a Day,” works perfectly as a gay allegory.
Included in many a grade-school anthology, “All Summer in a Day” is a short but searing portrait of a wan girl named Margot, who laments the fact that her parents moved her from Earth to the planet Venus when she was four. Venus, in Bradbury’s vision, is a gloomy, austere place swathed in rain; indeed, the sun appears only once every seven years – and, even then, only for an hour at a time. Margot, having been born on Earth, is the only one of her classmates that remembers having seen the sun, and she is despondent without the literal brilliance of her birthplace. Indeed, she is practically catatonic when invited to join her classmates in typical Venusian activities: “She was an old photograph dusted from an album, whitened away, and if she spoke at all her voice would be a ghost.
Now she stood, separate, staring at the rain and the loud wet world beyond the huge glass.” There is talk that Margot’s parents will move back to Earth simply to spare her this sort of depression, and unsurprisingly, she becomes the constant target of verbal and physical abuse due to her classmates’ resentment, of this and her general demeanor. At one point, Bradbury describes her social punishment as follows: “He gave her a shove. But she did not move; rather she let herself be moved by him and nothing else.”
The story takes place on the Great Day in question. Finally, fed up with Margot’s anomalous personality, her fellow students decide to lock her in a closet – then forget about her as the sun makes it glorious reappearance. They, at long last able to witness its splendor, see for themselves that it is every bit as thrilling—indeed, more so—than Margot has described it to be. But, alas, it is only after the sun has been once again concealed in clouds and rain that the children remember Margot, and the last lines of the story are stark, terrifying, and heart-shattering: “They walked over to the closet door slowly and stood by it. Behind the closed door was only silence. They unlocked the door, even more slowly, and let Margot out.”
Through the years, I’ve returned to this story time and again, always devastated by its potent brevity, but I’ve never quite voiced that what I love most about it: It is a very apt and pitch-perfect depiction of what the queer child truly feels his or her world to be. Margot’s despondency, her lethargy, her awkwardness, her unwillingness to engage in the normal activities attributed to her classmates – these are all token signs of the queer child’s world, the lessening he or she must undertake to deal with the harsh realities of being Other, being otherworldly. Margot’s closet is both literal and figurative, as such closets tend to be. Yes, this is a state that we could ascribe to many children, but something about Margot’s specific torture, her difference, and, of course, her closet has always spoken to me about my own childhood and its peculiar, fraught confinement.
Bradbury, however, was no sadist; his story reads like a wake-up call now, in that the students see the error of their ways. After frolicking in the sun, they do not shun Margot but realize how right she was all along. They are remorseful, finally able to understand Margot’s despondency. I hope that this story continues to appear in anthologies, so that children may read it and understand the values of contrition and understanding. That, in the end, is the real fantasy that Bradbury was writing.