Summary and Analysis: The October Country
Touched with Fire
Mrs. Shrike is a loud and coarse menace to society. Because of a subconscious desire to die, she deliberately aggravates people to the extent that one day someone will not be able to resist the urge to murder her. She blatantly insults the butcher, her son-in-law, and even Mr. Foxe and Mr. Shaw, who are trying to save her from herself. These men know that ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which most murders are committed. This is the apex of irritability, so Mr. Foxe and Mr. Shaw are like firemen who try to prevent a fire from occurring. They want to expose Mrs. Shrike to love and serenity before her obnoxious personality and the heat of the day make her self-imposed situations perfect for her murder. However, Mr. Foxe himself almost causes the destruction that he and Shaw try to prevent. When Mr. Foxe realizes how he has nearly murdered Mrs. Strike, these self-appointed firemen run for safety.
A commentator on life and humanity's customs, Bradbury has made observations which have led him to put an accurate finger on certain evils that are at work in the world. Fire is the image that he often utilizes to depict the purification or destruction of these evils. His earliest story containing this image and theme is "Touched with Fire." When Mrs. Shrike speaks to Foxe and Shaw, her voice is like "pure blazing sunlight that [burns] their eyes"; she swears at them with language that blazes and flies through the air "like great searing torches." Furthermore, she is described as a "feverish dragon" who lives in a "fire clouded" room, speaking nothing but "fire and smoke." When the men make their hasty exit from the apartment, they pass Mr. Shrike, who is coming home from work. Typically, he, too, is described in images associated with fire. He seems painfully sunburned, raw, and sweating. The temperature has climbed to ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit, and Shrike's longshoreman's hook is hanging from his back pocket as he climbs the stairs. In the safety of the store across the street, Foxe and Shaw sip colas while awaiting her murder. Mrs. Shrike has been shopping for death, and today, she is not going to be disappointed. Bradbury the moralizer is here displaying his belief in the importance of such powerful emotional values as love and kindness.