Comparative Essay – A Sound of Thunder/The Other Foot

Compare and contrast two characters from the short texts you have studied.

A Comparative Study of Eckels and Willie Johnson

Alex de Beer

In Ray Bradbury’s short stories ‘A Sound of Thunder,’ and ‘The Other Foot,’ two integral characters are Eckels and Willie Johnson. In many ways, Eckels and Willie Johnson face similar situations, and both have to respond to difficult, changing circumstances. Both characters are protagonists; they are introduced early on and feature heavily throughout the stories. While at first glance the characters may seem similar – when making illogical decisions at the beginning of their texts – they are in fact quite different. Two major differences are that while Eckels is a follower, Willie Johnson is a leader, and they respond to the difficult situations they face in contrasting ways. By comparing these two characters, it can be shown that their response to difficult and evolving circumstances is very important. This extremely valuable message can be used by the audience in everyday life.

At the beginning of their respective texts, Eckels and Willie Johnson make illogical decisions. In ‘A Sound of Thunder,’ Eckels chooses to go on the safari to the past, despite instinct telling him not to. ‘Mister Eckels looked at the check. His fingers twitched,’ demonstrates how Eckels’ instinct is to tear up his check and not go on the safari. If Eckels had thought logically about this decision, then it is most likely he would have reached the same conclusion; the wildlife and environment of the past was dangerous and strikingly different to what he was used to on Earth. After some hesitation, Eckels ignores logic and instinct, participating in the safari. The consequences of this decision are immense as Eckels feels overwhelmed and out of his depth in this foreign environment. He reacts with, ‘Get me out of here… this is too much for me to get hold of.’ In “The Other Foot,” upon hearing that the white people are travelling to Mars, Willie Johnson impulsively decides to put laws in place that will segregate them from his own race. ‘We’ll see who gets laws passed against him, who gets lynched…’ shows how eager Willie is to get revenge against the white people for the crimes they committed against his parents years earlier. He is not thinking logically about this decision; in segregating the white people he would have pushed relations between them and his own race further apart, causing yet more conflict. Ray Bradbury has shown the audience, through the characters of Eckels and Willie Johnson, that we must always think logically about each decision we make, because if we do not, there can be disastrous consequences. He has included this idea across both stories as it is extremely important to understand, and affects everyone in their daily lives.

Eckels is a follower during his story, while Willie Johnson is a leader. In ‘A Sound of Thunder, Eckels is required to follow Travis, who will tell him ‘what and where to shoot.’ He must listen to his instructions and follow them carefully, because any mistakes could have dire consequences in the future. One of the most important instructions Eckels is given is to ‘stay on the Path.’ Unfortunately, Eckels does not follow this instruction; he steps off, crushing a butterfly. Because Eckels, as a follower, does not listen to the instructions of his leader, his actions have a huge impact on the entirety of humanity. In ‘The Other Foot,’ Willie Johnson is eager to be a leader of the group that makes new rules and laws about what the white people can do once they reach Mars. He ‘stopped at every house and told them what to do,’ and orders members of his group to make new delegations and laws that can be used to discriminate against the white people. However, as a leader, Willie Johnson does not make decisions that benefit everyone; he is driven by hatred and want for revenge, and so he neglects the feelings and opinions of the white people. If Willie had gone ahead with his original plan as leader to segregate the white people from his own race, then it is almost certain that there would have been a negative outcome. Ray Bradbury has shown the audience, through the example of Eckels, that when following a leader, they must always listen carefully to instructions and follow them to the best of their ability. This is because when they do not, there are often negative consequences, as was the case with Eckels. He has also shown the audience, through the example of Willie Johnson, that when leading a large group, it is always important to think carefully and make decisions that positively affect everyone. This is because if you do not, conflict between multiple bodies of people is likely to occur in the future.

Eckles and Willie Johnson respond differently to changing circumstances. In ‘A Sound of Thunder,’ when Eckels first meets the Tyrannosaurus Rex, he realises that he has ‘miscalculated,’ and that the animal will be too difficult to shoot. Because of this realisation, he becomes terrified that he will be killed. Fear overwhelms him, meaning that he is unable to run back to the time machine, as were the instructions of his safari guides, causing him to step off the Path. The consequences of Eckels’ response to this situation are immense; many aspects of current-day Earth are changed in a negative way. In ‘The Other Foot,’ Willie’s circumstances change when, after the white people land on Mars, they inform Willie that all of the cities of Earth have been destroyed in atom warfare, and that therefore, all of the places that held his memories of hate have been erased. Under pressure to make a decision about whether to enforce the new segregation laws given these changing circumstances, he thinks carefully and decides that ‘the time for being fools is over,’ and that the two races must make a new start together. Willie’s response to these changing circumstances, and his calmness under pressure, mean that relations between the two races improve, and that there is no conflict. Ray Bradbury has shown how Eckels and Willie Johnson respond differently to changing circumstances in order to teach the audience how paramount it is to be calm under pressure and make decisions for the good of everyone. Because Eckels froze under pressure which resulted in bad decisions, he is an example of how a character can react negatively. However, because Willie Johnson was able to accommodate a change in circumstances, was calm under pressure and was able to come to a decision that benefitted everyone, he is an example of how a character can react positively.

Eckles and Willie Johnson are extremely important characters in their stories ‘A Sound of Thunder,’ and ‘The Other Foot,’ written by Ray Bradbury. They are both involved in all the key events within the stories. Both Eckels and Willie Johnson make illogical decisions, at first making their characters both seem similar. However, they are, in fact, quite different; Eckels is a follower, while Willie Johnson is a leader, and the two characters respond to changing situations in very different ways. Ray Bradbury has included the characters of Eckels and Willie Johnson within his short stories in order to convey to the audience many important morals they can use in everyday life; that it is important to make logical, calculated decisions, that when being a leader, it is vital to make decisions for the benefit of everybody, that when following a leader, it is important to listen carefully and carry out any given instructions, and that it is paramount to adapt well to changing circumstances so as to achieve the best possible outcomes.


One thought on “Comparative Essay – A Sound of Thunder/The Other Foot

  1. A well written essay which analyses the similarities and differences between these characters well. To improve, consider making a link to racism and how black people have been treated in society. What message do you think that Bradbury was trying to communicate through the character of Willy? ***

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