Study Guide

The Martian Chronicles Memory and the Past

By Ray Bradbury

Memory and the Past

Mr. and Mrs. K had lived by the dead sea for twenty years, and their ancestors had lived in the same house, which turned and followed the sun, flower-like, for ten centuries. ("Ylla," 2)

Okay, so maybe Earth Men are a little obsessed with the past. They've got nothing on the Martians. Can you imagine a family on Earth living in a house for a thousand years? Not even royalty can manage that.

"But then, you always beat me, I remember!" ("The Third Expedition," 168)

"The Third Expedition" is all about memories—specifically, childhood memories. Bradbury doesn't want us to miss this connection, as when he has Captain Black talk about his past with his brother Edward. Similarly, when Captain Black sees his parents, "He ran up the steps like a child to meet them" (171). The problem is, hanging on to these memories gets the whole expedition killed.

They say childhood memories are the clearest. And after they built the town from my mind, they populated it with the most-loved people from all the minds of the people on the rocket! ("The Third Expedition," 205)

Bradbury gets explicit here, calling out childhood memories by name and suggesting that all the "most-loved people" exist in the past. There's no mention of plans for the future—only a longing for the past.

He saw the dim faces of dear relatives long dead and mantled with moss as Grandfather lit the tiny candle and let the warm air breathe up to form the balloon plumply luminous in his hands, a shining vision which they held, reluctant to let it go; for, once released, it was yet another year gone from life, another Fourth, another bit of Beauty vanished. ("The Fire Balloons," 84)

Father Peregrine remembers the fireworks of his childhood, which give this story its name. Bradbury has Peregrine think about these fireworks at the beginning of the story (1), in the middle (84), and at the end (222). It's almost as though his whole quest for God is simply an attempt to recover some of the magical wonder of this childhood ritual.

Honking the horn and him slamming his door, a gun in his hand, laughing to himself, his heart racing like a ten-year-old's, driving off down the summer-night road, a ring of hemp rope coiled on the car floor, fresh shell boxes making every man's coat look bunchy. ("Way in the Middle of the Air," 186)

This is Samuel Teece's memory of spending nights terrorizing and even murdering his black neighbors. Awesome, right? Here's another example of why sometimes it's better to forget the past—or at least stop idealizing it.

"We came here to enjoy our old age in peace, not to think of Tom. He's been dead so long now, we should try to forget him and everything on Earth." ("The Martian," 11)

This is Anna LaFarge making the case for forgetting the past, so it's ironic that she's the one who clings to the idea that this Martian is her son. In other words, she remembers the good part (we have a son) and forgets the bad (our son is dead). Now that's what you call a selective memory.

"This isn't your ship," said the vision. "It's old as our world. It sailed the sand seas ten thousand years ago when the seas were whispered away and the docks were empty, and you came and took it, stole it." ("The Off Season," 86)

No wonder Martian culture seems old and a little stagnant: they're surrounded by 10,000 years of history. History is great, sure. But if you can't walk without tripping over a castle (or a sand ship), then maybe it's time to be a little more selective.

Space was an anesthetic; seventy million miles of space numbed you, put memory to sleep, depopulated Earth, erased the past, and allowed these people here to go on with their work. But now, tonight, the dead were risen, Earth was reinhabited, memory awoke, a million names were spoken... ("The Watchers," 1)

When you go to Mars, memory goes "to sleep," but when there's a war coming, "memory [awakes]." This is weird, because it makes memory sound like something outside of the individual—like, we can't actually control our memories. It's all just based on circumstance.

"Do you remember Spender, Captain?" "I've never forgotten him." ("The Long Years," 58-59)

But we have. Zing! Since these stories constantly introduce new characters (and since they were originally published months or years apart), Bradbury has to work to make sure we remember some of the older ones. What's cool about this, though, is that it emphasizes the scope of the story Bradbury's telling.

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. ("The Million-Year Picnic," 127)

Timothy's dad wants to start over on Mars, so he very symbolically burns all these old papers. But why does he have to burn them on Mars—why can't he just leave them behind on Earth? It's as though he has to personally see them destroyed before he can forget them.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...