Study Guide

The Martian Chronicles Analysis

By Ray Bradbury

  • Tone

    Mostly Tragic, Some Comic

    In "The Silent Towns" we get a comic version of the "last man on Earth" story, with Walter Gripp learning to be happy alone instead of living with a hideous woman who makes the mistake of eating chocolate in front of him. By comic here we mean both that it's a) funny(ish) and b) has a happy ending. (And for Gripp, being the last man on Mars is a perfectly happy ending.)

    But in "The Long Years," Bradbury writes a tragic (and kind of creepy) version of the "last man" story, with Hathaway building a robotic family to replace his original one. Gripp may gain something (peace and solitude), but Hathaway's loss somehow seems a lot more likely.

    This alternation between comic and tragic is all over The Martian Chronicles. Like, in "Ylla," Yll says that Earth could never support life because "Our scientists have said there's far too much oxygen in their atmosphere" (43). That's comic because it's dead wrong—it's oxygen that makes life possible on Earth.

    But keep in mind that Yll makes this comic remark in the context of a loveless marriage that will soon lead him to murder. So, you know, tragic for Ylla, who's suffocating because of a lack of oxygen—we mean, love.

    In the end, you're not going to have to use too many fingers or toes to count up the funny moments, because, really, the stories are mostly tragic. After all, the humans wipe out almost all of Mars and then blow themselves up in nuclear war. Not exactly a laugh riot.

  • Genre

    Science Fiction? Mythology?

    Quick: name the last science fiction book to win a Pulitzer. Or a National Book Award. Or a Man Booker Prize.

    Can't do it, can you? Science fiction is usually considered genre writing—like, when you go to a bookstore, there's a separate section for it, just like fantasy or romance. And genre writing doesn't get much respect. Ray Bradbury did a lot to change that, even though his writing doesn't sound all that much like science fiction.

    Ray Bradbury has long been known as a science fiction writer, and the stories take place on Mars and involve lots of science fiction-y things, like telepathy, Martians, and robots. So why do we say put a question mark after science fiction?

    Because even though The Martian Chronicles uses a lot of sci-fi techniques—like being set in space and talking about rocket ships—Bradbury isn't really interested in science and the reality of Mars. Occasionally he reminds us that we're on Mars by pointing out that there are two moons or that the atmosphere is thin. But his Mars is very much a fantasyland version. What really interests Bradbury is the universal truths of people facing the unknown.

    In other words, he's writing a version of mythology. His Martian Chronicles are origin stories to explain the way people behave when they're facing a new civilization or a grand new adventure. Even the word "chronicle" emphasizes the scope of the stories, since a "chronicle" is often used to refer to the history of a people.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Easy-peasy. "Martian": takes place on Mars. "Chronicles": record of history, especially things that happened in a particular place. "Martian" is self-explanatory, and "Chronicles" means that this is a record of history and that it's told in the order it happens. (Chronos is a Greek word meaning something like "clock time"—not that the Greeks had clocks, but meaning time as we experience it in the world.)

    Okay, so much for the title of the collection. The individual titles could take a lot of work, so let's just look at a few:

    "The Green Morning": Well, probably something to do with Driscoll's trees, because that's what happens. He wakes up one morning, and Mars is green. So, this title is pretty descriptive, and it doesn't tell us much about what to think.

    "The Locusts": Okay, this has a little more personality. Locusts are little, bitey, nasty creatures (nasty if you're a farmer; pretty tasty if you're a seagull). So, by titling the story "Locusts," Bradbury is telling us that this new shipment of settlers is maybe not going to be so great for Mars.

    "The Off Season": This is a cruel little joke, because it turns out that he's just set up a hot dog stand in Mars's off-season—since everyone is heading back to Mars. Because this is what his wife says to him right as they watch everyone leaving, we get the sense that the narrator is happy about Sam losing all his business.

    The point is, the titles of the short stories tend be mostly descriptive, but only after you've read the story. They don't tell you what's going to happen; but, looking back at them after you've read the story, they tell you what Bradbury wants you to take away. Maybe this is why some readers feel like he's a little too preachy—he's definitely controlling your reading experience.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    So, we've got kind of a three-part ending here. We start with (1) people abandon Mars and then hit (2) the Earth is a wasteland, and then finally comes to (3) a few people escape back to Mars. Let's take these one at a time.

    (1) In "The Luggage Store" and "The Off Season," the settlers learn that war is breaking out on Earth. Can't miss it! Pretty much everyone decides to abandon Mars and head home.

    Honestly, we don't really get this. Are they going back to help the war effort or to be with their families? (Remember, these stories were written shortly after World War II, when everyone in America was supposed to help out the war effort in some way.) Or are they going back because they don't want to miss out on the excitement?

    Even when the war is over, in "The Long Years," Captain Wilder wants to return to Earth to see what it's like (52).

    (2) The Earth is a wasteland.

    Okay, "There Will Come Soft Rains" may make you want an awesome automated house, but the awesome house really isn't the point. During the 1940s, people would also be really worried about nuclear war and annihilation because of that little problem with the nuclear bombing of Japan. In fact, the 1940s saw lots of novels and short stories about how a nuclear war could lead to the end of the world.

    So this part of the ending is very much a reflection of Bradbury's historical moment. For the first time in human history, people actually have the technology to kill every single person on Earth. Pretty scary stuff.

    (3) We have no idea how this will end up, but the very last story in the book is about people returning to Mars in order to get away from the war. Now this seems totally reasonable to us—why didn't everyone come to Mars before?

    What stands out to us here is the point-of-view: we see this story through the eyes of a kid who is old enough to cry about the tragedy of the situation (95), but also young enough to see the possibility of this new place. Will Mars be humans' new home? And will they revitalize and settle it—or will they just blow themselves up again?

  • Setting

    Mostly Mars—but kind of a fantastic Mars, partly like ordinary Earth and partly like the historical Old West frontier; In the near future

    Okay, so we admit that setting might be a little confusing. Let's start with the easy one:

    Time: The near future

    When this book was first published, in 1950, the first story took place almost 50 years into the future. When the stories were updated for the 1997 version, the first story took place almost 33 years in the future. (Presumably, the next edition will take place 20 or so years in the future.)

    Most likely, Bradbury set the novel in a time far enough away so that new technology would be plausible (yay interplanetary rockets) but close enough that we still wouldn't have figured out some of those pressing global-civilization issues (boo nuclear weapons).

    Mostly Mars

    "Rocket Summer," "The Taxpayer," part of "The Fire Balloons," "The Wilderness," "Way in the Middle of the Air," and "There Will Come Soft Rains" all take place on Earth. That's six out of 28 stories, so we're definitely going to be spending most of our time on Mars.

    And when we do see Earth, it's looking like a pretty ordinary, 1940s-style Earth, even if it is supposed to be 1999 or 2034. We have "children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets" ("Rocket Summer," 1), and the narrator even tells us in "The Taxpayer" that it's an "ordinary Monday morning on the ordinary planet Earth" ("The Taxpayer").

    Something kind of interesting: evidently Bradbury's future included rocket ships, food pills ("The Wilderness"), and nuclear war, but not any kind of gender equality. Even when the house is fully automated (as in "There Will Come Soft Rains"), the dad still comes home at night and gets his cigar lit while the mom does her errands.

    Tripping the Mars Fantastic

    Time for a brief history lesson!

    In 1877 an Italian astronomer named Giovanni Schiaparelli noticed that Mars had these funny lines that looked like natural formations. He called them "canali," or "grooves," which got mistranslated as "canals." Suddenly, everyone on Earth thought Mars was inhabited by intelligent Martians who built canals to bring water to their cities. They thought of Mars as a dry place where a great civilization was probably dying out. American astronomer Percival Lowell even wrote two books about the peaceful Martians and their canals: Mars and its Canals (1906) and Mars as the Abode of Life (1909).

    This brings us to early science fiction, like Edgar Rice Burroughs's books on Mars (now a major feature film). As Burroughs imagined it, Mars was dry, dying out, and full of telepaths. Sound familiar? Bradbury doesn't deny it. In fact, he's said that Burroughs's books really inspired him as a kid.

    In other words, Bradbury's version of Mars is not so much the way people thought of it in the 1940s and 1950s, when he was writing. His Mars is more like the one people were writing about in the 1900s and 1910s—set in the future, but inspired by the past.

    But Still Pretty Ordinary

    Even before humans get to Mars, Mars seems a bit like an American suburb. Take "Ylla," with its depressing portrayal of how "marriage [makes] people old and familiar" ("Ylla"), or "The Summer Night," where people go hear music and kids sing nursery rhymes. Sure, some details are different—Ylla uses magnetic dust instead of, say, a Swiffer ("Ylla," 1)—but most of it looks a lot like Earth.

    The historical Old West frontier

    Probably more than anything else, Mars in this book is like America when Europeans first came to settle it, and later when Americans pushed the frontier westward. This comparison comes out in certain parallels:

    1) Hey, there are already people living here! Oh, oops, we gave them all chickenpox and they died. Plus, we shot some of them and destroyed their culture.
    2) People settle in hard-living mining towns.
    3) The chef of the Fourth Expedition is named Cookie, which, uh, was apparently a loving nickname for chuckwagon chefs ("—And The Moon Be Still as Bright," 134).

    In case we can't pick up on these clues, Bradbury lays it out for us directly a few times:

    • In "The Wilderness," Janice thinks about how settling Mars is like settling the American west, and Leonora even says "It's a New World. It's like the old days. The men first and the women following."
    • The narrator of "The Settlers" reminds us that these first travelers might feel like Pilgrims. 
    • In "The Third Expedition," Lustig—thinking that the Martians are actually Earth Men—says "like the Pilgrims, these people came here to escape Earth."
    • The mayor of the first town says that Mars is "a frontier now, like in the old days on Earth, out West, and in Alaska" ("The Fire Balloons," 46).

    The picture that we're getting here is that this may be a fantastic version of Mars, but it's not about space travel and exploration so much as it's about the frontier of America.

  • What's Up With the Epigraph?

    "It is good to renew one's wonder," said the philosopher. "Space travel has again made children of us all."

    As far as we can tell, this isn't a real quote; it's just something Bradbury thought up and liked.

    So what does it mean? The part about "wonder" reminds us not to take things for granted. "Wonder" can refer to curiosity ("I wonder what Mars is like") but also something like amazement ("Wow, this new bath cleaner is wonderful"). In this context, it probably means something more along the lines of amazement, like a child discovering the world for the very first time.

    One way to avoid taking things for granted is to go look at new things. After all, that's why babies and children are so often surprised—to them, everything is new. That helps explain the last part of the epigraph: Space travel allows us to go out and see new things. We may be senile old fogies in relation to Earth, but in relation to Mars we're just babies.

    Finally, note that Bradbury has a "philosopher" say this. If you're someone who likes business and industry, philosophy may seem frivolous. By having a philosopher introduce his stories, Bradbury is telling us to listen to those guys. After all, these aren't meant to be stories about how amazing and successful the Mars mining operations were—they're more about how all the philosophers were right, and all the greedy technocrats were wrong.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (4) Sea Level

    You're in for a treat: not only is Bradbury a pretty easy writer, he's a beautiful one. He wrote the stories to be published in science fiction magazines, so he wasn't trying to impress anyone with his vocabulary and sentence structure: he was just trying to tell a good story.

    But that doesn't mean it's boring. Bradbury is describing what things are like, not what they are, and so his writing is full of gorgeous figurative language (for more on that, check out our poetry terms). Like, check out this totally random sentence:

    The sky was empty. There was a feel as if a great bell had just stopped tolling. Reverberations lingered in their teeth and marrows. ("The Fire Balloons," 105)

    This is a perfect example of what's both tough and simple about Bradbury's style:

    1. It's easy to understand: "The sky was empty." Pretty clear, right? 
    2. It's figurative: "There was a feel as if a great bell had just stopped tolling." (Notice the simile "as if" there—no bell actually tolled, it just feels like one did.)
    3. He sometimes gets fancy: "Reverberations lingered in their teeth and marrows." Reverberations? That's like echoes of a bell. Marrows? That's the soft part in your bones.

    So, settle in somewhere comfy and make sure you have a good snack handy. We think you're going to like this.

  • Writing Style

    Evocative, metaphorical and sensuous

    Evocative (and strange)

    Poetic language is not usually something we associate with sci-fi writing, but Bradbury has got the evocative language down. He'll often use a strange or unexpected word to conjure up a whole set of associations in the reader.

    For instance, when a Martian goes running over the sands, Bradbury describes him as running like "wild calipers" ("The Earth Men," 75). Calipers are a device used to measure distance. There are a couple of different designs, but they often look something like this. In other words, not something usually associated with running, and it makes the Martian seem weirdly clumsy and long-legged. What's awesome is Bradley doesn't have to say anything boring like "the Martian was clumsy and had long legs." He just—evokes it. Evocatively.

    For another example, Bradbury describes the sand ships as "preening the sea bottoms" ("The Off Season," 111). "Preen" means to clean or smooth down—birds preen their feathers with their beaks. So simply by using the verb "preen," Bradbury is making a little comparison between the ships and bird's beaks, without using the word "bird," almost as if the ships are somehow arranging the sand into pretty lines.

    Figurative and Sensuous

    So, we know Bradbury knows how to use words. He also sure knows how to write a sentence, particularly ones that use figurative language to help the reader see, smell, or hear. For instance:

    He felt something in the seat behind him, something as frail as your breath on a cold morning, something as blue as hickory-wood smoke at twilight, something like old white lace, something like a snowfall, something like the icy rime of winter on the brittle sedge. ("The Off Season," 81)

    That's the description we get when a Martian is standing behind Sam Parkhill. Instead of just saying "There's a Martian behind Sam, and it gives him a weird feeling at the back of his neck," Bradbury gives us this list of comparisons, or similes, that evoke a certain feeling. We get the sense of something insubstantial—something so light that it might just blow away in the wind. (Which is what happens after Sam fires his gun.)

  • Fire

    There sure is a lot of fire and heat in this book. But like fire itself, it can be both good and bad: it warms people at night, but it also burns books and meadows. So, let's take a closer look.

    Fire Good

    In"Rocket Summer," fire shooting out of the rockets' engines warms up a cold Ohio winter and fires—excuse the pun—people's imaginations. On Mars, Ylla feels a great (metaphorical) warmth from the passing rocket that carries someone she might love ("Ylla," 176). Spender warms up the night with a wood fire instead of using more advanced technology ("—And The Moon Be Still As Bright," 1). Benjamin Driscoll has a fire as his only nighttime companion ("The Green Morning," 5).

    Here, fire seems to be mostly associated with positive things—love and companionship and the natural world. It's warm both literally and metaphorically, and it acts as a little transportable symbol of the best things on Earth.

    Fire Bad

    But fire is also dangerous and destructive. When rockets land in "The Locusts," the narrator says that they "set the bony meadows afire, turned rock to lava, turned wood to charcoal, transmitted water to steam, made sand and silica into green glass which lay like shattered mirrors reflecting the invasion, all about ("The Locusts," 1). So, humans haven't even started to settle yet, and they're already using fire to reshape (and destroy) the planet.

    And fire destroys Earth, too. As people stand on Mars to watch the nuclear war, they see that "Earth changed in the black sky. It caught fire" ("The Off Season," 176-7). Obviously, this kind of fire is bad with a capital "B." This is humanity gone way off course. Not content with burning books ("Usher II"), they're burning themselves up.

    Fire … Ambiguous?

    And some instances of fire are a little harder to figure out. Take the dad burning all his Earth papers in "The Million-Year Picnic":

    The fire leaped up to emphasize his talking. And then all the papers were gone except one. All the laws and beliefs of Earth were burnt into small hot ashes which soon would be carried off in a wind. (127)

    It's hard to get a sense of what Bradbury thinks about this. On the one hand, sure, all the Earth laws and beliefs ended up leading to destruction. On the other hand—everything? Do we really want to burn indiscriminately? Surely there's something good left.

    And maybe that's the problem with fire. There's no middle way: either it burns everything, or it burns nothing. Or—how about this? Fire is technology. In fact, you could argue that it's one of the first human technologies. And as "The Million-Year Picnic" teaches us, you have to be careful with technology:

    [P]eople got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines. Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth. (123)

    So, whether it's fire or rockets, human technology is dangerous. Helpful? Sure. Amazing? Absolutely. But dangerous.

  • Dryness/Water

    Mars is dry. We see this right away when Ylla is riding into town: she "didn't watch the dead, ancient bone-chess cities slide under, or the old canals filled with emptiness and dreams. Past dry rivers and dry lakes they flew" ("Ylla," 76). So, dryness is associated here with an old, ancient civilization, something dried up and used out.

    And that's actually the way Mars was imagined in the early 1900s. (See "Setting" for more about that.) Some astronomers thought that Mars was full of dried-up channels that used to ferry water to ancient cities.

    So, in a way, all this dryness seems to represent some possible future vision of Earth. If Mars used to be like earth—the way Spender thinks that "one day Earth will be as Mars is today" ("—And the Moon Be Still as Bright," 81)—then Mars's dryness represents a future.

    That becomes explicit in "Night Meeting," when Tomás meets a Martian who's horrified to hear what happened to Mars: "A man can face the Past," Muhe Ca says, "but to think—the pillars crumbled, you say? And the sea empty, and the canals dry, and the maidens dead, and the flowers withered?" ("Night Meeting," 125).

    (Yeah, obviously the most important thing here is that the maidens are dead. Yikes, Bradbury. Maybe tone down the totally obvious sexism?)

    Anyway, the point is that water = life, the future, hope, youth, all the good things in life; and dry = death, the past, despair, age, all the bad things. That's certainly how it's used in "The Green Morning," when Driscoll's languishing seeds spring up after one good rain.

    But what about "The Martian"? It rains at the beginning of the story, when the LaFarges find their "son" (rain=good). But it also rains at the end of the story, when they lose him again. And in "The Million-Year Picnic," the dad shows his family that "the Martians were there—in the canal—reflected in the water. Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad" (138). But we already know that's a kind of ambiguous ending.

    So, like fire, water seems to stand for both good and bad things—both life and loss. Or maybe water just does what it does, ignoring people—as in the title poem of "There Will Come Soft Rains." We like this interpretation, because it makes water the opposite of fire. Where fire always seems to be controlled by people, either for good or bad purposes, water does its own thing. It's truly a force of nature.

  • Rockets

    Rockets are all over this book, from the first story (when a rocket changes the weather), to the last (when a rocket is used to change history). Some critics think Bradbury is anti-technology, and they might have a point: as the dad says in "The Million-Year Picnic," "the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines" (123).

    Rockets don't come off any better in "The Locusts," when they land on Mars and "set the bony meadows afire, turned rock to lava, turned wood to charcoal, transmitted water to steam, made sand and silica into green glass which lay like shattered mirrors reflecting the invasion, all about" (1).

    Or check out what they do in "The Naming of Names": "And the rockets struck at the names like hammers, breaking away the marble into shale, shattering the crockery milestones that named the old towns, in the rubble of which great pylons were plunged with new names: IRON TOWN, STEEL TOWN, ALUMINUM CITY, ELECTRIC VILLAGE, CORN TOWN, GRAIN VILLA, DETROIT II, all the mechanical names and the metal names from Earth" (2).

    Okay, Bradbury: we get it. Rockets are bad.

    But are they, really? After all, Bradbury seems to like the idea of people exploring and finding out new things and being curious about the world around them. And rockets do that. They can also save the world, like the family that they bring to Mars in "The Million-Year Picnic." (Although arguably the family wouldn't have needed saving if it weren't for technology in the first place.)

    Well, take a look at the very first time we see rockets, in "Rocket Summer." When we first see a rocket, it's standing "in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts" (5).

    That sounds pretty neutral, actually. When we start the book, rockets aren't good or bad. They just are. It's up to people to make them into symbols either of positive change—hope, exploration, new starts; or negative destruction.

    Unfortunately, you know which one they choose.

  • Spiders and Insects

    There sure are a lot of spider- and insect-shaped things on Mars. Yll reads books that talk about ancient men carrying "clouds of metal insects and electric spiders into battle" ("Ylla," 1). The little girl in "The Earth Men" plays with a "golden spider toy." Muhe Ca rides a vehicle that looks like a "jade-green insect, a praying mantis" in "Night Meeting."

    Oh, and don't forget the "golden, horrid bees" that Yll uses to kill the first two men on Mars in "Ylla." Yikes!

    So, obviously, spiders and insects can be good or bad (toys are good, weapons that kill people are bad). But the fact that the Martians design tools that look like creepy-crawlies indicates how different they are from humans.

    Fun fact: the creepiest aliens always seem to resemble bugs: think Ender's Game, the Borg hive-mind, or, you know, Men in Black. (The awesome original one, of course.)

    Spiders and insects seem to tap into a primal fear for Bradbury: this is as foreign and strange as he can imagine. And when you think about the way that ant colonies and bee hives work—the weird, almost telepathic communication they use—it makes sense that Bradbury would use them as a symbol of extraterrestrial life, since the good guys in his stories are always people who chose to be different and to break away from conformity.

    (We'd say there's no "I" in insect, except, well, there is.)

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third Person (Omniscient) and Third Person (Limited Omniscient)

    The Martian Chronicles is written with two main points of view: third person omniscient and third person limited omniscient.

    Third Person Omniscient

    In third person omniscient stories, the narrator can jump anywhere, including into anyone's mind. In most of the interchapters, Bradbury's narrator does just that, giving us a broad overview of large movements of people, then swooping down and telling us what those people are thinking.

    For instance, in "The Settlers" the narrator tells us that the people "came because they were afraid or unafraid, because they were happy or unhappy, because they felt like Pilgrims or did not feel like Pilgrims" (2). The way Bradbury uses this perspective almost gives his writing a mythic feel, almost as though he's writing an origin story—which, in a way, he is. The focus isn't on individual characters and their motivations; it's on the movements and feelings of an entire group. Cool, but a little hard to relate to.

    Third Person Limited Omniscient

    While the interchapters tend to feature that free-floating narrator (I'm here, now I'm here, now I'm in your head, now I'm inside your house watching you sleep), many of the stories focus on just one or two main characters.

    In these stories, the narrator only gives us what this character sees and thinks. For instance, in "Ylla" we get the story from her point of view. We don't see Nathaniel York because Ylla doesn't see him. We don't see Yll kill Nathaniel York because Ylla isn't there to see that. It's Ylla's story.

    Some of the stories have two characters' points of view. For instance, "—And The Moon Be Still As Bright" starts off from Spender's perspective—we see what he is thinking and doing. But after Spender kills Biggs and the other men, we start to get Wilder's point of view. When Wilder is hunting Spender, the point of view switches back and forth, until the end, when Wilder's point of view becomes dominant and we hear more and more of his thoughts.

    Here is a chart that breaks down narrative technique by story:
            Limited Omniscient                  Limited
    Rocket Summer                     X
    Ylla                     X
    The Summer Night                     X
    The Earth Men                     X
    The Taxpayer                     X
    The Third Expedition                       X
    —And The Moon Be Still As Bright                       X
    The Settlers                     X
    The Green Morning                     X
    The Locusts                     X
    Night Meeting                     X
    The Fire Balloons                     X
    The Shore                      X
    Interim                     X
    The Musicians                      X
    The Wilderness                     X
    (Way in the Middle of the Air)                     X
    The Naming of Names                     X
    Usher II                       X
    The Old Ones                     X
    The Martian                     X
    The Luggage Store                      X                     X?
    The Off Season                     X                     X?
    The Watchers                     X
    The Silent Towns                     X
    The Long Years                     X
    There Will Come Soft Rains                     X
    The Million-Year Picnic                     X

    You can see that there are at least two chapters we're not entirely sure about. "The Luggage Store" is a short interchapter, but it focuses on a brief discussion between two people. Compare that to "The Watchers," which is an interchapter that tells us what all of Mars is doing.

    And what about "The Off Season"? Its narrator mostly tells us what happens from Sam Parkhill's point of view. For instance, when there's a Martian behind Sam, the narrator tells us what it feels like to have a Martian behind you. But we don't really hear a lot of Sam's thoughts, like in the other stories, where we see events from a particular character's point of view.

    So, what's the point of all this jumping around? The stories are a way for Bradbury to tell a much larger story: the attempt and failure (and then second attempt) to colonize Mars. Yeah, that's a big story. It's not a hard-and-fast rule, but epic and sweeping stories tend to have multiple points of view (we're looking at you, A Game of Thrones). It's hard to talk about interplanetary war or saving the world if we're stuck in one guy's head the whole time.

  • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

    We might say that the main character of The Martian Chronicles is the human race. Each story focuses on a different character, but the book as a whole is about all of us. If we look at it that way, we could say that the book is the story of a Voyage and Return.

    Anticipation Stage and 'Fall' Into the Other World

    In "Rocket Summer," we meet people getting ready for a trip. Except they're not exactly the people you'd expect to be heading off to Mars, because Bradbury only specifically talks about "housewives" and "children."

    Initial Fascination or Dream Stage

    The first few expeditions to Mars are exciting, even if they're not always what you'd call successful. We hear about them in "Ylla,""The Earth Men," "The Third Expedition," and "—And the Moon Be Still As Bright." Members of the Second Expedition are proud of their accomplishment, and the Third Expedition finds a place that seems like Heaven (complete with dead loved ones).

    We might even put "—And The Moon Be Still As Bright" in this category. Although it's pretty dark (it involves a lot of murder), it shows us that the Fourth Expedition is still all excited and hopeful about their missions.

    Frustration Stage

    But Mars isn't the easiest place for Earth people to settle, as we see in "The Green Morning" (Mars needs oxygen), "The Musicians" (where Firemen are burning away the very thing that makes Mars special—that is, all the dead Martians), and "The Fire Balloons" (where it turns out that Martians don't need religion, after all). It's almost as though coming to Mars hasn't solved all our problems.

    Nightmare Stage

    Mars is Other People 

    What's really nightmarish about Mars is... other humans. We see this in "Usher II" (where a book-lover murders censors); in "The Martian" (where people demand so much from a Martian that it kills him); and in "The Off Season" (where we see how shallow and unpleasant people can be). So even though we're on Mars, we can't escape from our usual problems.

    Thrilling Escape and Return

    Okay, Maybe Not So Thrilling

    "The Watchers," "The Silent Towns,"and "The Long Years" are all about the thrilling escape and return back to Earth—because, if we're just going to take our problems with us, we might as well go home. Even if, as "There Will Come Soft Rains" shows us, home seems to do just fine without us.

    So, here's the question: when people return to Mars in "The Million-Year Picnic," are they simply starting the cycle all over again? Or is their trip to Mars actually part of a new beginning?

  • Plot Analysis

    Initial Situation

    The Humans Are Coming! The Humans Are Coming!

    When The Martian Chronicles begins, everyone is in the right place—the humans are on Earth (in Ohio, in "Rocket Summer") and the Martians are on Mars (in "Ylla"). But things are about to change: people are building rockets, and by "The Summer Night," more and more humans are coming to Mars.


    Can't We All Just Get Along?

    We see other examples of humans and Martians not getting along (such as earlier, in "Ylla" and later in "The Off Season"), but this is where most of the conflict happens. It's not a war, just some misunderstanding in "The Earth Men" and a little ambush in "The Third Expedition."


    Fight Club

    "—And the Moon Be Still As Bright" sets up some of the major questions that this story cycle addresses: is it right for humans to settle a place that's, you know, already inhabited? What's the right way to treat a different civilization? Is it possible to leave behind Earth conflicts? Turns out, finding a whole new-to-you world is pretty complicated.


    Settle Down

    This section runs from "The Settlers" to "The Luggage Store." Humans come to settle Mars and they bring with them all their stuff from Earth—trees, religion, new names for places, censorship, murder, and sadness for lost loved ones. Meanwhile, tensions are rising on Earth.


    Home Again, Home Again

    In the stories from "The Off Season" to "The Long Years," we see that Mars still hasn't quite become home for the settlers. So when war breaks out on Earth, just about everyone goes back. Sure, some people accidentally stay, like in "The Silent Towns" and "The Long Years," but those chapters just help emphasize how un-homelike Mars has become.


    Earthling Wasteland

    "There Will Come Soft Rains" shows us what happened to all the Martian settlers who went back to Earth: they've been turned into shadows on the wall. Wonder if they're regretting their decision now?


    We Hope Someone Brought the Mustard

    Here's the thing about Earth Men: they're survivors. In "The Million-Year Picnic," a few people have escaped from war on Earth and come back to settle Mars. Maybe this time Mars will really become home. Or maybe this colonization attempt is also doomed to failure. We have to admit, our fingers are crossed.

  • Three-Act Plot Analysis

    Act I

    A Man Goes on a Journey

    In "Rocket Summer" to "The Third Expedition," various people try to make it on Mars—and fail. If this were a classic myth (which it kind of is), this would be the part where the hero (Humanity!) sets off on an adventure.

    Act II

    Strangers Come to Town

    In "—And The Moon Be Still As Bright" to "The Martian," people settle on Mars—and sort of succeed. In a classic myth structure, this would be the bulk of the adventures.

    Act III

    And Then Everyone Leaves

    From "The Luggage Store" to "There Will Come Soft Rains," although people want to settle down on Mars (which is one common end to a classic myth structure), they end up returning home to Earth (which is the other common end).


    Then there's "The Million-Year Picnic," which is sort of a final coda or epilogue at the end: although everything is pretty terrible for everyone else, there's still some hope on Mars.