The Martian Chronicles is about people confronting a new world. But will they change this world or will they themselves change? Throughout the book we see examples of things changing: the rocket changes winter into summer ("Rocket Summer"), Martians change from looking like one thing to looking like another. But then there are also examples of people trying to stop change, like Yll killing off the human explorers just to preserve his unhappy marriage. In The Martian Chronicles, change may not be good—but it's definitely unstoppable.
In The Martian Chronicles, change is presented as an inevitable effect of life—it's neither good nor bad.
Change is always presented as dangerous in The Martian Chronicles. The best thing the Martians did was to stop advancing their technology.
You can live without art, sure—but would you want to? The Martian Chronicles makes a strong case that life without art and culture is pretty meaningless. Several characters we like (Ylla and Spender for instance) seem to have positive feelings toward art, philosophy, and literature, whereas character we don't like (Briggs and Parkhill) see culture primarily as target practice. It's pretty clear where Bradbury comes down on the issue. As Spender argues, science may help preserve life—but art can help us figure out what life is about.
In The Martian Chronicles, art and culture are presented as the highest achievements of humanity. As Spender argues, without art we'll end up destroying ourselves with technology—which is what happens at the end of the book.
While Bradbury defends art and culture in this book, he does so mostly by having characters tell us how great art is. We don't actually see how important art is in many of these stories.
Identity in The Martian Chronicles is not just a question of masks and playacting, although it's that too. (Stendahl uses robot lookalikes to trick everyone at the party, even though it would seriously be easier just to shoot them all.) It's mostly important, however, because we've got two cultures meeting, trying to communicate, and figuring just what the other is all about. One of the first things they have to communicate is who they are. Think, for instance, of Tomás Gomez and Muhe Ca in "Night Meeting," trading their identities before going on to form a strange sort of friendship.
In The Martian Chronicles, masks—whether literal or figurative—can't hide true identity. All the characters in this book eventually reveal their true natures.
Identity in The Martian Chronicles relies on names. Identity is a social construction—you are what others say you are.
There's a reason VH1 keeps running I Love the 80s marathons: nostalgia is big business, and The Martian Chronicles knows that people love to reminisce about a better, more neon-tastic past. Many characters have childhood memories that affect the story in one way or another. For instance, "The Fire Balloons" is named after Father Peregrine's memory of the Fourth of July, and the Martians use childhood memories to trick members of the Third Expedition. These aren't just coincidences: Bradbury is posing serious questions about whether the past is better than the present and whether the future is going to get better or worse. And nostalgia isn't just a private matter; when societies get nostalgic, do they just end up going backward?
In The Martian Chronicles, the past is a force that cannot be escaped. We'll all eventually be sad over losing something.
The past is a roadmap for the future in The Martian Chronicles. Having a sense of the past is the only way to live peacefully and happily.
In The Martian Chronicles, you can choose your own isolation adventure: you can be totally alone, like Gripp at the beginning of "The Silent Towns;" or you can just feel alone, like Spender at the beginning of "—And The Moon Be Still As Bright." Sure, Bradbury shows that crowds and large groups of people can be scary (see the crowd in "The Martian"—or in his short story "The Crowd"). That doesn't mean he's pro-isolation. Being alone is not presented in a positive light in The Martian Chronicles, but it can be even worse to be surrounded by people who don't see things the way you do. The lesson here? Befriend a nice group of like-minded people. Okay, Ray, we'll get right on that.
In The Martian Chronicles, isolation is the worst fate people can imagine. Characters like Spender and the Martian (from "The Martian") would rather die than be alone.
Bradbury suggests that isolation is key to figuring out one's true identity.
In The Martian Chronicles, home is where the… well, actually, where is it? Home is where one belongs (identity) and where one has a past (memory and the past). None of the settlers ever seem to feel like Mars is home, although presumably the Martians do. But home can also change. Since one of the main plots in the interchapters is the movement of humans looking for a new place to settle, we can say that one of the main motivations in the book is the desire to find a home. But are any of the characters we see at home happy where they are? Is it really possible to return home? And can home—like the automated house—go on without us?
In The Martian Chronicles, the search for a home and happiness drives the characters more than any other motivation.
No characters in The Martian Chronicles are presented as being at home. Home is about comfort, and none of the characters are truly comfortable where they are.
Even the worse humans have dreams, hopes, and plans. In The Martian Chronicles, every major character has some goal to increase his happiness (or avoid unhappiness): Yll in "Ylla" is trying to prevent his wife from leaving him; Captain Jonathan Williams wants to be celebrated for reaching Mars ("The Earth Men"); Benjamin Driscoll wants to plant trees to increase the oxygen of Mars ("The Green Morning"); and even the automated house of "There Will Come Soft Rains" wants to keep up its routine. Humanity is a race of dreamers, even when there are only a few of them left.
In The Martian Chronicles, characters often fail to achieve their dreams because the world is constantly changing. A character may momentarily get his wish, but it doesn't last.
Although dreams can be hard to achieve, they are both achievable and necessary in The Martian Chronicles. A character without a dream cannot set a story in motion.
A psychologist kills his patients and then himself ("The Earth Men"); the Third Expedition is ambushed; Wilder ends up killing Spender; Parkhill doesn't get his hot dog stand; the Martian dies when he tries to make everyone happy ("The Martian"); and Ylla is stuck in a loveless marriage. Let's face it: most of the stories in The Martian Chronicles end sadly. Even the last one, "The Million-Year Picnic," has a big helping of sadness mixed in with its hope (the end of the Earth is kind of sad, we guess). Even though Bradbury is talking about sadness on a global scale in many of these stories (all the Martians die, most of Earth is ruined), he also zooms in to look at the sadness of individual characters. We have to say, Bradbury's presenting a pretty grim picture of humanity's future.
The pervading sadness of The Martian Chronicles suggests that humanity is doomed, no matter what schemes it develops to save itself.
The ultimate sadness in The Martian Chronicles is that time continues to move forward, changing everything we love.
In The Martian Chronicles, freedom is most interesting when it's taken away. For instance, the government passes a law (banning books), restricting the freedom of a guy like Stendahl. So he gets revenge. Or a spouse restricts a character's freedom (as Ylla's is by Yll); but she just seems to accept it. Or life on Earth is full of official and unofficial racism, so an entire group of people—African-Americans—takes off to find a new, freer world. The search for freedom has led people all over the world and, in the Chronicles, even off the world itself—even if it's not clear what freedom looks like.
Because The Martian Chronicles was written at a time when people were worried about conformity, freedom means freedom from other people's interference.
Freedom in The Martian Chronicles is a mixed concept, with both positive and negative consequences.
Bradbury uses Mars and the Martians as a contrast to the way Earth people (primarily Americans) deal with the world around them. And, unsurprisingly, Americans don't come off too well. As Spender points out, that means they don't understand their own role in the environment. Moreover, The Martian Chronicles makes it clear that American-built technology won't last—either on Mars or on the Earth. Technology may be amazing, but it's no match for nature.
Bradbury sets the book on Mars as a way to reflect on the problems of America's relationship with the environment without making Americans feel too uncomfortable.
The Martian Chronicles shows people changing the world for the better, to make it more livable for humans.