Jeff Spender is like the guy in class who takes a joke a little too far, if by "joke" you mean "honoring the Martian past" and by "a little too far" you mean "killing all the humans he can."
We learn a lot about why Spender wants to preserve Martian culture: he's disillusioned with Earth Men, who he thinks "have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things" (77)—like, say Earth. Spender basically thinks that Earth Men messed up big-time back on Earth, and he's not going to let that happen again.
And check out the way Spender talks about the Martians: he says that "they knew how to live with nature and get along with nature. They didn't try too hard to be all men and no animal" (233). Sound familiar? Well, it's a lot like what people used to say—and sometimes still say—when they want to say something nice about Native Americans or other indigenous people.
What's the problem? If you're saying that a certain people know how to get along with nature, and they don't try too hard to be "all men," then what you're really saying, even if it's unintentional, is that they're part-animal. And that doesn't sound so nice.
Now, the 1940s were a lot less sensitive about that kind of thing than we are in the twenty-first century, and it's not clear if Bradbury wanted us to feel a little conflicted about Spender's motivations. But given how Spender tries to preserve Martian culture, we think it's probably safe to say that we shouldn't take his word on the subject, even if he has been "learning how to read the ancient books and looking at their old art forms" (148)—as though that suddenly makes him an expert on the culture.
But here's the problem: Spender may have a point about how humans are going to deal with Mars, but his actions turn him into a monster. As he explains, he's going to sit tight and wait for more rockets, and then, "after I've made friends with them and explained that our rocket exploded one day—I intend to blow it up after I finish my job this week—I'll kill them off, every one of them. Mars will be untouched for the next half century" (227).
So, the moral of this story? It's all very nice to learn to read Martian and talk about respecting life, but once you go shooting people, it kind of undercuts your point. You know what we call people who use violence to make political points? Terrorists. So, Spender: possibly good thoughts, definitely terrible actions.
(Oh, and it's kind of funny that the guy who wants to save Mars is named Spender. Maybe that's meant to clue us in to the fact that he's not actually very good at saving things.)
For a guy named "wilder," Captain Wilder sure is civilized. (Check out the irony in all these names: Spender is a saver; Wilder is civilized; Biggs is small-minded; Parkhill... uh, hates parks and hills?)
Wilder seems like a moderate captain—he'll dance with his men to celebrate their voyage, but he also enjoys the serenity of the Martian evening. He'll fine Spender for punching Biggs and even organize a hunt to kill Spender, but he also has enough sympathy to understand Spender's argument.But instead of focusing on what Mars means for the Martians, Wilder thinks about what Mars means for Earth Men: "This will sober us. It's an object lesson in civilizations. We'll learn from Mars" (81).
In fact, Wilder eventually concludes that he's like Spender, only less violent: "I'm Spender all over again, but I think before I shoot. I don't shoot at all..." (319). And we can't really disagree with that self-assessment. Like Spender, Wilder realizes that the Martians are worth honoring because they were on to something and he even seems to continue Spender's fight through less violent means—he shoots off his mouth instead of his gun.
But in "The Off Season," Sam Parkhill notes that Wilder got sent off Mars so he wouldn't interfere with the colonization ("The Off Season," 6). So Wilder's techniques don't work much better than Spender's did—and he turns out to be wrong. So killing all the humans won't save Mars, but neither will a sensible, moderate approach. We're left wondering—is this mission doomed even before it begins?
We really don't know why anyone would send Biggs to Mars, since he's a drunk who enjoys telling stories about how he smacked around women. Scratch that—Mars sounds like the perfect place for him. Or maybe Pluto. In any case, the farther away the better.
All we really need to know about Biggs is that the first thing he does when he gets to Mars is get drunk and puke all over the tiled floors of a Martian building. Twice. But Bradbury gives us some more fun tidbits, to really drive it home. Like, Biggs tries to name things after himself: "I christen thee Biggs, Biggs, Biggs, Canal." And he's the one who "force[s] the men to get happy" after they land on Mars, instead of letting them stay "humble and frightened."
For Spender, Biggs is a symbol of everything that's wrong with people on Mars, and we can't disagree. Basically, if you looked up "ugly American" (or "ugly human") in the dictionary, you'd find this guy. No wonder Spender takes him out first.
Parkhill is kind of like Biggs, doing "target practice in one of the dead cities, shooting out the crystal windows and blowing the tops off the fragile towers" ("—And the Moon Be Still As Bright"). He's not so smart, and, just like Biggs, he gets a fist in the face.
But unlike Biggs, Parkhill survives. In fact, in "The Off Season" he ends up with a hot-dog stand and half of all Mars. And he definitely hasn't learned any lessons: "All I wanted to do," he explains, "was have a hot-dog stand, the only one on Mars, the first and most important one" ("The Off Season," 121). So we get the sense that he's going to Mars not because he's a great adventurer or a curious scientist or even because he's depressed about how much Earth stinks these days. He just wants to go somewhere he can be the best—or at least the first.
Cheroke is a mystery. The story mostly divides characters into two camps: those who like and respect Mars (Spender and Wilder) and those who don't (Biggs and Parkhill). Cheroke falls somewhere in the middle. Cheroke is part Cherokee Indian, and he seems to side with Spender and the Martians because of his family history: "I've got some Cherokee blood in me. My grandfather told me lots of things about Oklahoma Territory. If there's a Martian around, I'm all for him" (143).
And yet, when Spender gives Cheroke a chance to run away to the hills (like a Martian), he decides to throw in his lot with the rest of the humans. Which means that Cheroke gets shot (163).
But if Cheroke understands the Martian situation, why does he side with the other humans? Is he supposed to represent some middle way between Spender's "kill all humans" and Biggs's "destroy all Martian stuff" positions?
The thing is, we're not sure if Cheroke is a cautionary tale or an example. Sure, he's there—so the simple fact that he exists could be an example of how a colonizing people (like the Europeans) and an indigenous group (like the Cherokee and other Native American tribes) could manage to coexist through intermarriage and treaties and that sort of thing.
But if you know anything about Cherokee history—like a little thing called the Trail of Tears, for example, you'll know that the Europeans did a pretty thorough job of colonizing America. So thorough, in fact, that they nearly wiped out the native peoples and almost utterly crushed their cultures and languages.
In fact, we can't really think of any Earth-bound example of a colonizing people not utterly destroying the native people of the land they find. So, here's the question (or questions): is destruction inevitable? Does Cheroke just want to be on the winning side, for once? Or does his history give him some special insight?