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Is The Martian Chronicles a Book of One Story or Several?

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When reading a collection of short stories, there isn’t usually a viable connection made between the various stories in the compilation. Whether it be Mark Twain’s collection of satirical stories, or Edgar Allen’s Poe’s anthology of horror tales, each story is its own; miscellaneous plots, opposing characters, and varying themes. However, upon reading Ray Bradbury’s collection of short stories entitled The Martian Chronicles, one might discover that it is simply not the case. Bradbury’s short stories are of the science fiction genre, and the stories are set from 1999-2026. Instead of each story having an individual storyline, there is a kind of background story that you understand as you read through the compilation. To summarize, the humans of Earth attempt to explore Mars through four different expeditions, but ultimately fail. Eventually, the humans prevail and begin to colonize Mars. After a while, war breaks out back on Earth, and everyone evacuates Mars and returns home to Earth. Only a few are left, and at the end, some humans end up returning to Mars to start life there over. Despite the fact that these are eac separate and individual stories, they are connected by three main things; the use of interchapters and chronology, characters, and themes. The stories progress chronologically (beginning in January of 1999 and ending in October of 2026. Instead of each story being individual, the timeline makes the book seem like one big story. Bradbury created inter chapters after he decided to publish the book as a whole, which makes the reading flow much more. The characters of each story do vary, but certain characters and story lines that inevitably come with those characters do reappear throughout the piece. Though Bradbury utilizes multiple themes throughout the construction of the short stories, a select few stand out and reinforce the general ideas that Bradbury is trying to express through his writing. Though this is a compilation of short stories, and each one has it’s individual aspects, the timeline, characters, and themes throughout the tale show the reader that this collection isn’t really multiple stories; it’s just one.

Bradbury wrote most of his short stories to be published individually throughout the 1940’s. It wasn’t until 1958 that he actually assembled the stories together to create one book. When Bradbury first put the stories together, it was a simple compilation of short stories. But when Bradbury put all these stories together, the whole story in general was much greater than its individual parts. Instead of a disconnected series, the compilation became an actual novel that explored many themes and symbols of the human drive for exploration and survival. Bradbury needed something in between the main stories to make the story progress with more ease. Called “interchapters,” these short sketches were originally used by John Steinbeck in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck used these interchapters to temporally distance the reader from the current storyline and get them to focus on the bigger picture. In The Martian Chronicles, the interchapters were actually written after Bradbury published the compilation. They’re not about the specific characters that are brought forth in the regular chapters. Instead, they focus on the main storyline of the people of Earth’s exploration of and eventual attempt to create life on a new planet.

“The Settlers”, “The Locusts”, “The Shore”, and “The Interim” are all interchapters that show the progressive colonization of Mars by the humans. We see the humans becoming more and more greedy of the space and resources of Mars, and begin to take more and more of it for themselves. This shows mores the big picture story of the humans slowly beginning to settle on Mars. These interchapters are dispersed throughout the novel to show the colonization as a continuous movement, and makes the collection seem more like one big story. “The Watchers” is an interchapter that shows the transition between the slow settling on Mars and the jolting realization that a return to Earth was needed. These interchapters help the flow of the story as well as make the collection seem more like an actual book. The aspect of chronology kind of goes along with the idea of interchapters; each chapter is set at a date after the next, showing that everything is happening right after the previous event (like a book), instead of randomly making each story set at different dates.

The implication of certain characters throughout the novel is another example of how the collection is actually one big story. Characters that are introduced to us early on reappear later in the book in different stories that have different plot lines. Sam Parkhill is one example of a reoccurring character. Parkhill was first introduced to us in “And The Moon Be Still As Bright” as one of the team members of the Fourth Expedition. He then returns to the story in “The Off Season”, as he is trying to open a hot dog stand on Mars. In a real book, characters reappear during the writing, so the use of Parkhill in more than one story reaffirms that the collection is more like one story. In a book, we see characters either change and adapt, or stay the same. Parts of Parkhill have changed; instead of trying to destroy Mars, he is now trying to make some kind of a life for himself on it and is using the resources he has. However, his negative personality traits still shine through; his greed, his temper, and his rudeness (he shoots one of the Martians for no good reason). Dr. Hathaway and Captain Wilder are also characters who make a reappearance much later in the book. They were, like Parkhill, both originally from “And The Moon Be Still As Bright”. They are then featured in “The Long Years”, where Hathaway is living with his family on Mars. Wilder still exhibits the same traits as he did in the previous story; leadership and intelligence, as well as curiosity. Now, he has travelled to many more places in the universe, and the telling of his journey makes it seem like there has been a continuous story going on the whole time. Hathaway dies in the end, which creates some sort of finale; a character’s ultimate final transition. The reappearance of characters throughout the book definitely makes it seem like one big story, instead of many.

Bradbury utilizes multiple themes in his short stories, a lot of which fit in with the science fiction genre. The themes of freedom, isolation, culture, dreams, hope, and sadness are used for some of the specific stories, such as isolation in “The Silent Towns” and culture in “And the Moon Be Still As Bright”. The themes of human exploration, change, and technology v. nature are probably the most prevalent in Bradbury’s writing, and contribute to the story as a whole, instead of specific parts.

Human exploration is an extremely common theme in the genre of science fiction, which majorly concerns the people of Earth constantly in search for life somewhere besides our planet. Often times, this concludes in the finding of life on these other planets, and sometimes this life can be considerably hostile. Human exploration is mentioned not only in one of the short stories, but all of them. In fact, the general story of The Martian Chronicles focuses largely on human exploration; “The First Expedition”, led by Captain Nathaniel York, took off from Earth to attempt to discover life on Mars. Despite it’s almost immediate demise, a second, third, and even fourth expedition also venture out to find something bigger than themselves. Though all expeditions fail miserably, the humans don’t give up. After more persistence and determination, colonization is eventually reached on Mars. This brings up the more negative side of human exploration. In our past, exploration has brought about many positives; discovering new cultures, accumulating different ideas, making strong alliances…however, there has always been a downside to the aspect of exploration; humans are greedy. Like we’ve seen in throughout history, when humans discover a new culture, they do everything they can to obtain complete power and control over that culture. Bradbury’s writing mirrors this history. This is shown from the beginning, when the humans first begin to colonize on Mars (which is an obvious note to the Europeans coming to settle in the Americas in the 1600’s). Chapters such as “The Settlers”, “The Locusts”, “The Shore”, and “The Interim” are examples of humans progressively taking over Mars. In “And the Moon Be Still As Bright”, members of the Fourth Expedition already begin to recklessly destroy parts of the Martian culture without thought. Spender speaks to the captain about how he believes the humans will eventually destroy Mars, and says, “We’ll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves” (Bradbury 71). In “The Naming of Names”, the humans actually begin to rename some of the places on this new planet.

Another theme widely recognized in this collection is that of change. This is pretty obvious, considering the humans are changing their entire lives to move to a new planet. Not only this, but the Martians are also forced to change and adapt to this new and curious species that has invaded their home; “By the year’s end the Firemen had raked the autumn leaves and white xylophones away, and it was no more fun” (10) This theme, like human exploration, contributes mostly to the main plot and the story as a whole. As the story progresses, we see more and more change being both accepted and forced upon the characters, Martian and human alike. Throughout the book we see examples of things changing, such as the rocket changing winter into summer in “Rocket Summer”, and the names of these places changing in “The Naming of Names”. Also, the settlers move in and colonize on Mars, which definitely constitutes change. We see Martians change from looking like one thing to looking like another in many of the stories. But the theme of change not only deals with the physical changes these characters are going through; it also shows the internal changes that are portrayed in all of the stories. These examples include people trying to stop change, like Yll killing off the human explorers just to preserve his unhappy marriage, or Spender attempting to stop the Fourth Expedition from destroying the Martian culture. We see emotional changes in these characters, such as when Timothy moves to his new home on Mars and realizes that there has been a permanent change; “Just behind the veil of the vacation was not a soft face of laughter, but something hard and bony and perhaps terrifying” (43). These changes prompt the question: will humans change themselves, or will we keep making the same mistakes over and over? The transformation of these individuals is one of the novelties that makes this book more of a drawn out story, rather than short pieces where we’ll never know the fate of our changed characters.

Technology v. nature is a hugely recognized theme in the genre of science fiction literature. There is usually an abundance of new and exciting technology that is mentioned in sci-fi writing; time travel, rocket ships, curious devices…however, the lesson to be learned from this is that nature almost always prevails, despite the latest machinery. The Third Expedition boats that it has “superior weapons” (101), yet this doesn’t seem to help the humans whatsoever. In “And The Moon Be Still As Bright”, Spender is angry because he feels that the men should preserve the environment on Mars instead of trying to destroy it. He argues that we the Martians have an advantage over us because they stopped trying to overcome nature; “Because I’ve seen that what these Martians had was just as good as anything we’ll ever hope to have. They stopped where we should have stopped a hundred years ago” (212). The humans also try to change Mars by colonizing, but Mars prevails in the end. This theme is used throughout the book to show the ever standing fight between nature and technology. When Bradbury wrote each of these short stories, he wrote them as an individual piece. But after a while, he realized that the whole story was much greater than it’s individual parts. Though The Martian Chronicles is a compilation of these stories, they are all really connected by three main things; the use of interchapters and chronology, characters, and themes. The use of interchapters helps the reading flow more, and connects each chapter to make one long story. The utilization of a chronological timeline shows that each event happened after the previous, and it is one long event from the first expedition of Mars to the last men standing. The implication of reoccurring characters is something that is used in most novels, and makes the compilations seem more representative of a narrative. The usage of certain themes shows that the entire collection is really trying to express a few main ideas; the pros and cons of human exploration, change, and nature v. technology. Though this is a compilation of short stories, and each one has it’s individual aspects, the timeline, characters, and themes throughout the tale show the reader that this collection isn’t really multiple fragments; it’s one story about human exploration, change, ambition, and finding out that we are not, in fact, alone.

Works Cited

Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958. Print.

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