“I See You Never,” with its third-person narration, pivots between the minds of the two chief characters. The thrust of the story concerns the epiphanies of a Mexican expatriate and his American landlady that their thirty-month relationship of admiration and respect has been irredeemably ended by the California police. Ray Bradbury, who had recently traveled to Mexico before writing the story, expressed sympathy for Mexicans and Mexican Americans, and “I See You Never” contains a sensitive portrayal of a successful, albeit now illegal laborer, who reluctantly has to confront his alien status.
In whatever type of short story he writes—fantasy, horror, science fiction, or realism—Ray Bradbury is often concerned with the theme of metamorphosis, the transformation of human experience under the pressure of past or present events. He therefore uses his stories to bring to the surface hidden emotions or forgotten selves, and these revealed feelings or personalities may frighten, amuse, or enlighten the reader. In “I See You Never,” Mr. Ramirez discovers his deep feelings of attachment to the United States when he realizes that he has to leave it. Mrs. O’Brian finds that she has become emotionally attached to her tenant of two and a half years when she realizes that she is never going to see him again.
Unlike Bradbury’s science-fiction stories, “I See You Never” has ordinary settings (Southern California and Mexico) and conventional characters (a plump landlady and a Mexican laborer). In response to a criticism about his use of stock characters, Bradbury replied that he created characters to personify his ideas. Furthermore, he said, all his characters were, in some way, variations on himself. In this story, Mrs. O’Brian represents the orderly, comfortable, prosperous world of the United States, and Ramirez is the alien who is cast out of an edenic California.
This story was written not long after Bradbury made a two-month trip to Mexico, during which he felt like a stranger in a strange land. Bradbury, like many Californians of the time, was Protestant, individualistic, and ambitious, and he consequently felt alienated in a culture that was largely Roman Catholic, communalistic, and preoccupied with survival in the midst of poverty, suffering, and death. This theme of alienation became important in many of his stories, for he came to see that many modern human beings were alienated from their culture, their technologies, and even their own thoughts and feelings. In some of his other stories about Mexicans, Bradbury showed his admiration for their lack of materialism and their pastoral virtues and his anxiety over the dehumanization brought about in such a materialistic, technological society as the United States. This story is also an early manifestation of Bradbury’s social conscience because it exhibits his concern for the plight of foreign workers in the United States.
Separations have been called little deaths, and “To See You Never” is also about the permanent loss of persons to one another. Several critics have observed that below the surface of many of Bradbury’s stories lies an ominous vision of the human condition. Bradburian characters occupy a fallen world, where periods of sunny happiness may sometimes occur, but they are destined to be overwhelmed by darkness. Ramirez was beginning to think of himself as an American because he worked hard, saved his money, and became an appreciative consumer of American products and entertainment, but his dreams of a prosperous future were doomed to be dashed, not because of any fault of his or Mrs. O’Brian’s, but because they were both inhabitants of a sinful world.