The Martian Chronicles

by Ray Bradbury

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The Characters

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Bradbury does not create fully developed, complex characters in The Martian Chronicles. Though there are memorable characters, most tend to be representative. Ylla, the unhappy Martian wife, is a typical unhappy wife. Sam Parkhill is a typical, small-minded businessman, unable to see beyond his desire for wealth. William Thomas in “The Million-Year Picnic” is a good-hearted Everyman who tries until the last minute to save humanity and then tries to continue what is best in humanity on Mars. Perhaps the most memorable character is William Stendahl, the creator of the new House of Usher in “Usher II.” This story is related thematically to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953). Stendahl is a millionaire eccentric who has dedicated his life to preserving the imaginative literature (especially the stories of Edgar Allan Poe) which has been outlawed and burned by controllers of the “moral climate” on Earth. He devises the new House of Usher as an exact external replica of the original in order to trap most of the moral-climate officials and kill them there. The story tells of his success with this plot. Though Stendahl is memorable, especially for forcing his victims to die like characters in Poe’s tales and in twitting them for their ignorance of Poe, which is also ignorance of their fates, he still is essentially one-dimensional. Even the most important character, Spender, is essentially a mouthpiece for the main positive values of the book.

Characters Discussed

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John Spender

John Spender, an astronaut, a member of the fourth expedition to Mars. In “June 2001: And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” he is overwhelmed by the deaths of the Martians, accidentally caused when the third expedition infected them with chicken pox. He realizes that Earth people will exploit and destroy Mars, making it into another intolerable Earth. He tries to prevent colonization by stopping his own crewmates and kills several of them in the process. He explains his thoughts to Captain Wilder, but then rather than running away, he allows himself to be found and killed because he realizes that his cause is doomed. The crew buries him as they think a Martian would be buried.

Captain Wilder

Captain Wilder, an astronaut, the leader of the fourth expedition to Mars. He and his crew find the Martians dead of chicken pox and the planet little more than a museum. He understands that Spender is trying to save Mars from the destruction that humans will bring, and he knows that instead of creating a new life on Mars, the people of Earth will only bring with them the evil that they are trying to escape. Not satisfied with staying on the new planet and watching what will happen, he leaves to take command of a ship going to the outer planets. In “April 2026: The Long Years,” he stops at Mars on his return to Earth many years after war has destroyed most life on Earth and finds Hathaway living alone with a family he has created. Hathaway, now an old man, dies during the reunion, and the captain and his crew leave Mars to go back to Earth to see if any life remains.

Sam Parkhill

Sam Parkhill, an astronaut, a member of the fourth expedition. He sees Mars as a planet ripe for the picking, and he takes considerable joy in destroying Martian monuments. When Spender starts killing crew members, he is the first to want to hunt Spender down, and he is determined to shoot him in the head. Captain Wilder prevents this killing and eventually knocks Sam’s teeth out after Spender’s death when Sam uses the crystal towers of...

(This entire section contains 623 words.)

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the deserted city for target practice. In “November 2005: The Off Season,” Sam brings his wife to Mars and sets up a hot dog stand on one of the highways, hoping to cash in on the boom of business he thinks will come when the fleet of colonization rockets arrives. The last of the Martians, knowing telepathically what is happening on Earth, arrive to give him the deed to the planet, but he kills many of them and flees in panic. Finally, they convince him that their intentions are peaceful, and they give him the deed. He thinks that he will at last be a rich man, but on that night war breaks out on Earth, and he and his wife see it catch fire in the night sky.

Hathaway

Hathaway, an astronaut, a member of the fourth expedition. He brings his family to Mars and settles there. In “April 2026: The Long Years,” when war breaks out on Earth and everyone is recalled from Mars, he and his family are up in the hills and are left behind, becoming the last humans on Mars of which he is aware. When his family dies, he creates machines in their images and eventually forgets that they are machines. He creates a lighted city around them and becomes content in the illusion that he is not alone. He dies shortly after Captain Wilder returns and is buried on Mars near the graves of his human family. The androids he creates remain behind to live on the Mars he has created for them.

Themes and Characters

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Underlying Bradbury's futuristic writing is an enormous nostalgia for the simplicity of wholesome, early twentieth-century, small-town life. This nostalgia infuses both The Martian Chronicles and many of the author's other works. His immigrants to Mars are usually looking for a place to call their own—a cozy home and a bit of land. When they reach Mars they immediately set about turning it into another, better version of their place of origin. In "The Off Season," Sam Parkhill thinks that he has achieved his lifelong dream by opening up a roadside hot dog stand. Other new immigrants set up luggage stores, or plant maple and elm trees.

Bradbury suggests that nostalgia can, at times, be dangerous. In "The Third Expedition," a party of astronauts lands on Mars and discovers aninnocent-lookingg town apparently inhabited by deceased family members—mothers, brothers, grandparents, all of them long since dead back on Earth. These people turn out to be Martians, who have used nostalgia as a lure to entrap and eventually kill the unsuspecting astronauts.

The nostalgia theme in Bradbury's stories differentiates his work from that of many other science fiction writers of his generation. There is almost nothing of the fascination with technology that characterizes much work in the genre. Even the exotic settings of Bradbury's tales are largely superfluous, serving primarily to introduce a narrative tension between the familiar and the unfamiliar. The invaders from Earth rename ancient places on Mars in honor of their own civilization; conversely, Bradbury places unfamiliar names on his settings, and proceeds to tell tales of haunting familiarity, in which age-old passions such as jealousy, nostalgia, and passion spell the fates of Martians and humans alike.

Several of Bradbury's stories also deal with the dividing line between reality and illusion. In the touching "Night Meeting," a human and a Martian meet on a deserted road only to discover that each is an impalpable ghost to the other and that each sees a totally different Mars. In "Usher II," Mars is invaded by government bureaucrats from Earth who want to limit the settlers' freedom, both political and imaginative. In response, a man builds a bizarre duplicate of the House of Usher—from the Edgar Allan Poe story "Fall of the House of Usher" (1839)—peopling it with deadly traps taken from various Poe stories. The bureaucrats, condemned by their ignorance and lack of imagination, are dealt with promptly.

He remembered his arrival on Mars, Like a thousand others, he had gazed out upon a still morning and thought, ' 'How do I fit here?"
Another theme of some importance in The Martian Chronicles is humanity's inability to escape the past or to overcome preconceptions. Many of Bradbury's characters have sorrows they cannot put behind them, scars that will not heal—all of which causes them to hurt others, often unintentionally. In "The Martian," an older couple takes in what appears to be an abandoned child, one who looks remarkably like their dead son. He is actually a Martian, able to simulate their son's face. The Martian has no ulterior motive; he is simply trying to find a home. Eventually, however, other people see him, recognize in him the dead loved ones they still mourn, and—without meaning to—kill him through the terrible power of their need.

It soon becomes obvious that Mars is not the new start that so many settlers hoped for, but rather a continuation of old difficulties. In such stories as "Way In the Middle of the Air" and 'The Green Morning," both of which show Mars as a new Eden, Bradbury makes it clear that few, if any, of the immigrants have solved their problems by fleeing Earth. This is, perhaps, simply a downbeat restatement of the nostalgia theme. The immigrants are unable to successfully put behind them the unhappiness they brought from Earth.

Near the end of The Martian Chronicles, the Earth destroys itself in a nuclear war and most of the settlers, though they know they are probably going to their deaths, choose to return home. Bradbury presents this decision to return to Earth, this suicidal need to reconfirm origins, as proof of the settlers' inability to achieve a new sense of home on Mars. Only those few humans who have truly become Martians, who have truly separated themselves from the Earth, can achieve a new childhood, a new innocence, and remain on Mars. For them alone will it be a new Eden. Literary Qualities Bradbury was for years science fiction's premier literary stylist and, although his heavy use of adjectives and metaphors can seem cloying today, he remains one of the most sophisticated writers in the genre. He is particularly fond of similes, depicting "housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets" in "Rocket Summer" and spaceships landing on Mars in "The Locusts": "The rockets came like drums, beating in the night. The rockets came like locusts, swarming and settling in blooms of rosy smoke." Much of the metaphoric language in The Martian Chronicles slips easily into allegory, adding depth to Bradbury's fiction. Bradbury is a quintessentially American writer with a good ear for the patterns of small-town talk and nonstandard English. At its best, his dialogue is reminiscent of Hemingway's, and Bradbury has always spoken of that writer as an influence. What most readers remember about the literary technique of The Martian Chronicles, however, are the complex, almost surrealistic, narrative passages, which contain Bradbury's beautiful and touching descriptions of a far-away but strangely familiar world.

Themes / Characters

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Underlying Bradbury's populism is an enormous nostalgia for the simplicity of wholesome small-town life, circa 1930, and this theme infuses The Martian Chronicles as well as many of the author's other works. His immigrants to Mars are usually looking for a place to call their own, a cozy home and bit of land. When they reach Mars they immediately set about turning it into another, better version of where they came from. In "The Off Season" Sam Parkhill thinks that he has achieved his dream by opening up his own roadside hot dog stand. Other new immigrants set up luggage stores, plant maple and elm trees, or start giving the Martian landscape names such as Hinkston Creek and Driscoll Forest. In fact, the native Martians occasionally use this desire for sameness to fight back against the invading Earthmen, as in "The Third Expedition," where astronauts land on Mars only to discover an innocent looking, but deadly small town apparently inhabited by their deceased loved ones from Earth. The importance of nostalgia in Bradbury's stories is evidence of the difference between his work and that of most other science fiction writers of his generation.

Several of Bradbury's stories also deal with the dividing line between reality and illusion. In the touching "Night Meeting," man and Martian meet on a deserted road only to discover that each is an impalpable ghost to the other and that each sees a Mars which is totally different from that which the other perceives. In "Usher II," Mars is invaded by government bureaucrats from Earth who want to limit the settlers' freedom, both political and imaginative. In response, a man builds a bizarre duplicate of the House of Usher, peopling it with deadly traps taken from various Poe stories. The bureaucrats, condemned by their ignorance and lack of imagination, are dealt with promptly.

Another theme of some importance in The Martian Chronicles is man's inability to overcome both his preconceptions and his past experiences. Many of Bradbury's characters are caught up in their pasts. They have sorrows they cannot put behind them, scars that will not heal, and this causes them to hurt others, often without meaning to. In "The Martian," an older couple take in what appears to be an abandoned child, one who looks remarkably Jike their dead son. Actually, of course, he is a Martian, somehow able to simulate their son's face. The Martian has no ulterior motive; he is simply trying to find a home. Eventually, however, other people, recognize in him the dead loved ones they still mourn and, without meaning to, kill him through the terrible power of their need.

In "The Martian," as in a number of the stories in the book, it soon becomes obvious that for many of the people who have come to Mars, the planet is not so much the new start they hope for as it is a continuation of old difficulties. Through such stories as "Way in the Middle of the Air" and "The
Green Morning," which set Mars up as a new Eden, it quickly becomes clear that few, if any, of the immigrants have solved their problems by fleeing Earth. This is, perhaps, simply a downbeat restatement of the nostalgia theme. The immigrants are unable to recapture a nostalgic childhood happiness on Mars because they are unable to put successfully behind them the past unhappiness they brought from Earth. Bradbury recognizes that one truly cannot go home again in the sense of regaining childhood innocence, although, of course, a literal return is possible.

Near the end of The Martian Chronicles, the Earth destroys itself in a nuclear war and most of the settlers, although they know they are probably going to their deaths, choose to return home. Paradoxically, Bradbury uses this decision to return to Earth, this suicidal need to reconfirm origins, as proof of the settlers' inability to achieve a new sense of home on Mars. Only those few humans who have truly become Martians, who have truly separated themselves from the Earth, can achieve a new childhood, a new innocence, and remain on Mars. For them alone will it be a new Eden.

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