The Martian Chronicles
The Martian Chronicles: One Story, or Many?
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.
Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958. Print.
Analysis of “There Will Come Soft Rains”
Bradbury suggests in “There Will Come Soft Rains” within The Martian Chronicles that the human race will ultimately meet its doom. And when it does, the universe will simply continue revolving on its axis without experiencing the slightest impact caused by it. Especially pertinent to the 21st-century audience, Bradbury suggests that nature has a potent ability to overpower humans and our impact on the world, despite all industrial innovations that have revolutionized our civilization and despite all the technological accomplishments we might have achieved during our time on earth. This particular chapter in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles blatantly highlights the struggle of mankind against the all-powerful nature. Specifically, the automated house is suggestive of this conflict- the home is a technologically advanced structure and can certainly be considered a modern accomplishment for man. Bradbury heavily stresses how highly-technological the structure is by ridding the setting of all human presence in the chapter. By doing so, he suggests that mankind thinks it is so intellectually inclined to the point where it can design a machine that can function without the constant supervision of humans. However, even though man believes himself to be powerful through such mechanical innovations, the “smart” house is still not shielded from the pouring rain (167). The house still gets wet, implying that the laws of nature indeed still limit man and his works. Metaphorically, the rain drenching the sides of the house is indicative of the natural ways of the universe overpowering or rather eclipsing man’s wish to leave an impact on the world during his existence. Bradbury then elaborates on this concept of man’s lack of power in the poem, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” which he strategically inserted to directly follow the description of the rain as a reemphasis. Indeed, this poem has a very great significance to The Martian Chronicles, clearly since it is the actual title of one of the novel’s chapters. In this specific section, Bradbury exclusively describes the automated house. To stress the house’s high degree of technological advancement and ability, no human presence is described. The author does this to accentuate the extent to which humans can produce such highly mechanical systems, and despite such innovative feats, mechanics can never outshine nature. At certain times the house acts out according to the planned schedule. For example, at 9:05 AM the house was programmed to conduct a poetry reading session. The literary piece selected was “There Will Come Soft Rains” (170). Bradbury incorporates a moment of foreshadowing here. This home, which is completely automated and programmed by the hands of mankind, starts to speak of man’s downfall. By doing this, it is essentially predicting its doom as well as the doom of its creator. Particularly, the last two stanzas state, “Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, / If mankind perished utterly; / And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn / Would scarcely know that we were gone” (170). Bradbury, again, intentionally personifies nature to give it an authoritative and overpowering quality over humans. For example, “Spring” is capitalized, even though it usually is not. This suggests that “spring” is a proper noun, and it is similar to how we capitalize names like “God.” Moreover, Bradbury purposely states that the bird and tree would not “mind” if the human race were to vanish, as if they truly possessed critically-thinking brains (170). Bradbury endows all of nature with an intelligent quality, ultimately to have his reader understand that we cannot outsmart nature. For example, in this modern era mankind has tried to build magnificent and strong towering buildings throughout the world. All these structures constructed by human hands, however, will eventually deteriorate, no matter how sturdy the architectural foundation. Our own school’s library is a prime example. The building was erected on a structurally sound plan that involved a lot of artistic thought and technological assistance like blueprints and bull dozers. Yet, despite all of our attempts to preserve it, it is still sinking. One day, it will inevitable succumb to the earth, and when this happens, nature will be indifferent to it (171). Other structures that are clearly being overpowered by nature include the Leaning Tower of Pisa and all the Greek ruins that have been crumbling over the last centuries due to natural damage. These examples illustrate the inevitability of all manmade structures, for man can never outsmart or outlast the natural universe. Additionally, each stanza of “There Will Come Soft Rains” suggests mankind’s irrelevance. The first three stanzas are solely restricted to natural depictions- the environment and the animals that live in harmony with the world (170). This tone of serenity and accord is then sharply contrasted with the concept of war, as referred to in the fourth stanza. This global issue is associated with man; therefore, man causes destruction, and man is doomed for destruction himself. By describing the peaceful ways of nature as the war consumes mankind, the poem suggests the indifference that the natural world has towards man. This concept, which is so blatantly highlighted in “There Will Come Soft Rains,” actually sums up much of the instances described previously throughout the novel. For instance, in “The Taxpayer,” a man pleads to go to Mars because he fears that Earth will soon inevitably break out into immense atomic warfare (32). Also, the concept of nuclear war is also mentioned in “The Million-Year Picnic,” for the characters themselves understood that war is highly destructive (174). By including the significant poem “There Will Come Soft Rains,” Bradbury shows that he is intensely concerned with warning us of our own demise, which we induce through the phenomenon of impending war- a war of man, a war unfit for nature.Following the poem is Bradbury’s sudden shift to a description of the house ablaze. The house begins to deteriorate from the harsh natural conditions, as the fire overtakes it (170). In other words, this manmade manufactured structure starts to perish, which hints at the deterioration of its creator, or rather mankind, as well. As Bradbury describes, “The house gave ground as the fire in ten billion angry sparks moved with flaming ease from room to room and then up the stairs … And the wall sprays let down showers of mechanical rain” (171). Bradbury states that the house is yielding, suggestive of how man will ultimately yield to the powers of the natural universe. For example, all humans must die. We can try to resist our doom, and we have attempted to do so through medical technology. Nowadays, many elderly people are supported at their age with pills, oxygen tanks, and frequent checkups with the doctor. Similarly, cancer patients, for example, have a chance nowadays to conquer their disease and live to their old ages only to be put on more medications. Especially relevant to the 21st century reader, who is surrounded by such medical innovations that can extend man’s lifetime, Bradbury wants us to understand that we will eventually “give ground” to nature, no matter how powerful we feel due to technology (171). Through this particular quotation describing the house-consuming flames, Bradbury attempts to warn his modern reader by communicating the all-powerful ways of the natural universe. In this instance in which the scorching blaze overtakes the manmade house, Bradbury demonstrates how effortless it is for nature to conquer over the human race, as he describes the fire spreading with such easiness (171). Nonchalantly, the fire merely consumes the house because eventually, what mankind does and what mankind produces is of no value to nature. This is clearly demonstrated when the flames turn the artwork of Picasso and Matisse into ashes. This is a prime example of how man’s works lack universal impact. Supposedly, according to humankind, these artists are extremely accomplished. They have developed such a genius and respectable reputation; however, nature does not recognize that (171). Ultimately, this implies that man’s existence is weak and thus he will inevitably be erased from the face of the earth, no matter how much he might have contributed to the man-made ideas whether they are art, industry, or technology.While implying our unavoidable conquest, Bradbury also grants the fire an authoritative quality. The flames are personified to give it a sense of great power, as if they were endowed with God-like qualities. Through the phrase “flaming ease,” Bradbury wishes for his reader to understand that nature is far more powerful. Indeed, we have the ability to build artificial islands for the celebrities and construct artificial mountains, like the dry ski slopes in Dubai. Yet, that same island will inevitably begin to sink into the vast sea, and that same mountain will ultimately be consumed by the desert sands. By describing the fire’s complete dissolution of the house, Bradbury purposefully attempts to point out these situations in which humankind must ultimately yield to nature. Moreover, to further grant nature a more God-like presence, Bradbury depicts the fire as a force of “ten billion sparks” (171). By relating the flames to a massive number, the author implies that the fire is omnipotent and immense. Like God, the flames can consume all that is manmade. In this current age of the 21st century, this concept still applies. For example, as industry continues to boom exponentially, oil spills happen more often. Of course, there are casualties that include the marine animals that live underwater and the predators of those animals. However, despite the destruction caused at that moment, the ocean- a powerful natural body- is able to replenish itself by organically washing the oil to shore, where it is eventually disposed. Nature, as always, has cleaned itself of man’s touch. Unlike humans, nature is powerful enough to sustain itself, rejuvenate itself when needed, and defend itself against threats like the destruction caused by the human race. Currently mankind is testing nuclear weapon, trying to cure cancer, conquering regions to expand empires, and constantly inventing new machines- essentially for nothing. When seen on the scale of human history, indeed the human race has progressed greatly through industry and technology, among other factors. However, when seen on the scale of the infinite universe, man is tiny and trivial. Eventually, his impact will be overshadowed by the ways of the natural world. As a result of his destruction towards the world, man only accelerates himself to deterioration. In his story, Bradbury effectively shows that the universe does not revolve around man- in fact, that Sophist idea is farthest from truth.Works CitedBradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York: Bantam Books, 1977.
Frowning at Conformity: Bradbury’s Growing Disillusionment in Freedom of Expression during the Cold War
After World War II, United States was growing in prosperity as a seeming winner of the war; yet, growing alongside of it, was an omnipresent fear and tension about technology and ideology—the summation of the oncoming Cold War. As a young writer in the midst of this mid-twentieth century panic between the Capitalistic U.S. and the Communist USSR regime, Ray Bradbury, like many others, communicated and protested the irrationality of the hidden war through a series of short stories and novels published at the time. Of those, The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, published consecutively in 1950 and 1953, respectively, still remain the best received for their adventurous take on the American mass culture hysteria and the irrational policy passed by Congress during the Cold War. An episodic novel, The Martian Chronicles focuses on the American superiority and conformity complex through a series of independent short stories that follow the American conquer of Mars. It often hints at the purification and destruction of ideas on Earth, aspects that are more fully explored in Fahrenheit 451. Well known for its extensive analogy of government censorship and mindless materialism, Fahrenheit 451 walks through the metamorphosis of a book-burning fireman as he realizes the necessity of the knowledge and thoughts produced from novels and stories. In both worlds, Bradbury emphasizes the process of conformity–first, purification of public opinion to an ideology via mass appeal and majority pressure, and then, eradication of future differing opinions that might birth under the established purified society. However, Bradbury’s attitude on the process, as reflected by character analysis of the two novels, changes over time, growing grim as the Cold War movements escalated at the time of publication.
Ray Douglas Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois on August 22, 1920. Since he was young, Bradbury was known to have a future in liberal arts. As a lifelong devotee to drama literature, and poetry, he claimed that his major influences include Edgar Allan Poe, William Shakespeare, and later contemporaries such as Aldous Huxley. Bradbury often hinted and referenced the style and works of his favorite poets and writers to pay respect to their contribution to literary arts. Besides being a novelist, Bradbury was also a prominent playwright and screenwriter, occupations that were particularly targeted and harassed during the McCarthy Era. because of his experience with the Cold War reactionaries, Bradbury questioned the integrity of freedom of expression in his books. As exemplified by The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451–both about American obsessive control of ideology–Bradbury’s personal witness of his time influences and stands as important elements in his novels. As he stated in an interview in 1980, the Cold War Era was arguably the mind-settling period for Bradbury’s criticism of government, when he “was warning people…[when he] was preventing futures” (Hoskinson).
To demonstrate his disapproval about the Cold War policies, Bradbury first embarks on extended symbolism of majority conformity in both of his novels. Through specific characterization, Bradbury presents the rivaling relationship between majority and minority, in which the former dominates the latter and purifies the public with mass appeal and pressure. In the two novels, the government’s justification for these conformity policies is the resulting harmony and happiness among the people; yet, as many critics has deciphered, the metaphors of these books represent the mirroring early Cold War policies that brought about narrow-mindedness in people and in terms, “Bradbury’s strong distrust of [those]‘majority-held’ views” (Hoskinson).
Several of The Martian Chronicles episodes contain clashes between majority and minority that result from the effort to purify ideas; most significant of them all is “And the Moon Be Still as Bright”, originally published as an independent short story in 1948 (Hoskinson). In the story, Captain Wilder is the leader of the Fourth Expedition crew to Mars and in terms, the central figure of the majority. His identity as the will of the majority is highlighted when he is challenged by an outcast crew member, Spender, who, unlike the other colonizing crew members, wants to protect the lost Martian civilization. Wilder stands by his identity throughout the story whenever he converses with Spender; and later, he wins the battle with Spender, representing the success of the majority. Afterwards, Wilder acknowledges, but more ever, begins to doubt the majority:
Who are we, anyway? The majority? Is that the answer? The majority is always holy, is it not? Always, always; just never wrong for one little insignificant tiny moment, is it?…how the devil did I get caught in this rotten majority? (Bradbury, Chronicles, 95)
In executing his responsibility to purify minority, Wilder himself becomes conflicted with, as Hoskinson puts it, “the issue of individuality vs. conformity.” By establishing the majority and furthermore, criticizing the majority through its own leader, Bradbury sculpts out the use and faults of majority pressure.
Because of the publication chronology, themes of The Martian Chronicles, such as the one above, are often more fully explored in Fahrenheit 451. Whereas the majority-minority conflict is limited to each of Chronicles episodes, the idea of purification is the essence and is found throughout F451. Characters such as the wife of protagonist Guy Montag, Mildred, and Captain Beatty, represent the nature and features of a purified mind of the majority. Mildred–with her head filled with government-issued soap operas on “parlor walls”(Bradbury, F451, 130), her ears addicted to “electric ocean of sound” (Bradbury, F451, 10) for ten years, and her attention span lasting no more than a few seconds–she is the poster-woman of the materialistic and ignorant population. She even values the imaginary characters on TV more than her husband. When Montag asks her, “Will you turn the parlor off?” she refuses and replies, “That’s my family” (Bradbury, F451, 46). McGiveron points out that this kind of mindless behavior “is the result of the public’s active desire to avoid controversy…in favor of easy gratification and, eventually, intellectual conformity.” Though he argues that the public majority is the cause of this purification, government policy certainly plays a part in spreading and maximizing conformity to mass appeals, thereby erasing controversy and solidifying harmony. Captain Beatty of the Fire Department understands this well. As an unusual intellectual who actually agrees with the government, Beatty, too, “just like[s] solid entertainment” (Bradbury, F451, 61); but he also emphasizes the need for a uniform public. “We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, like the Constitution says, but everyone made equal” (Bradbury, F451, 55). However, by defining Beatty as the antagonist of the story (who is later burned to death by Montag), Bradbury shows his disapproval to Beatty’s ideas of conformity. In fact, the opposing intellectual character and the aid to Guy Montag, Faber, identifies Captain Beatty as “the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom, the unmoving cattle of the majority” (Bradbury, F451, 104). Similar to Wilder, the majority representative in Chronicles, Beatty is antagonized because of his symbolic identity; however, it is important to note that Wilder of the early Bradbury publication is self-antagonized, and Beatty, from Bradbury’s later work, is deemed as enemy by another character, while he himself still believes in the absolute will of the majority. The intensification of the symbolic character’s belief in majority-held views through the publication years parallels the growth of McCarthy Movement (roughly 1950-1956) and U.S. government and public push for advance weaponry (caused by USSR becoming a nuclear power in 1949). This parallelism of literature to reality not only legitimizes the pretense of Bradbury’s Cold War criticism, but also shows the evolution of Bradbury’s disillusion with government conformity policy–from believing that it could change, to completely downcasting it as antagonistic to the people’s freedom.
After the act purifying ideals and destroying any current opposition in society, Bradbury continues onto the next step of government policy to obtain peace—eliminating any future possibilities of different opinions so that the uniform ideology sustains. Bradbury already shows the eradication of opportunities to learn new ideas through the prominent book burning events in both of his novels, but he also demonstrate how government reacts to newly spurred ideas post-purification by introducing rebellious characters in his worlds. Furthermore, these rebels of different novels, though similar in their characterization, have different ending to their interactions with the governmental censorship. Standehl of The Martian Chronicles is targeted by government oppression for celebrating Edgar Allen Poe, but he is able to defeat censorship officials and continue his free expression; however, in the later publication of Fahrenheit 451, Clarisse, a delinquent who questions social ideology and structure, is killed for her behavior. The fact that Bradbury’s characterization of the end to these outlaws depresses over time indicates his growing pessimistic view on the consequence of free individual expression in the real American society of his time.
In chapter “Usher II” of The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury already describes Earth as a conformed and closely censored world. Eminent and high-ranking people of society and government condemn books, fantasies and imagination; ordinary citizens are all “Clean-Minded” and believe “the Burning [of books] was a good thing” (Bradbury, Chronicles, 165). A censoring organization called the “Moral Climates” is established and is, at the time of the story, responsible to have the newly colonized Mars “as neat and tidy as Earth” (Bradbury, Chronicles, 166). In the midst of conformity, Standehl builds a horror house, “Usher II”, on Mars to celebrate Edgar Allen Poe, who described a house of the same name in one of his horror stories. This act, obviously against the societal establishment of prohibiting supernatural and imaginary books, leads to Standehl’s arrest by Garrett, an Investigator of the Moral Climates. However, Standehl is not censored like most of the outlaws in Bradbury’s stories—he in fact tricks Garrett, and later, kills him along with all of the other “‘majority guests’ [to the House of Usher] with different approaches to murders seen in Poe’s stories” (Hoskinson). The fact that Standehl is able to not only maintain his freedom of expression in the form of exercising Poe’s fantasies, but also succeed in “paying back…the antiseptic government for its literary terrors and conflagration” (Bradbury, Chronicles, 170), demonstrates, what Hoskinson called, an individual’s unusual “sinister triumph over the majority.” More ever, in characterizing Standehl with such success, Bradbury shows hope in reforming his own government from its eradication policies of anti-communism.
Yet, it is important to note that “Usher II” is originally published in 1950, when the “Second Red Scare” led by Joseph McCarthy was only solidifying its ground. By 1953, the year Fahrenheit 451 was published, the Anti-Communist crusade had reached its pinnacle with its arrests, allegations, and general harassments. In this later book, Bradbury gives a much graver portrayal of the outcome for outspoken outlaws.
In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury again constructs a world in which conformity is essential and opinions are criminal. Schools, starting earlier and earlier to muster complete brainwash of children’s minds, require their students to embrace and praise materialism and ignorance. As the new generation born completely surrounded with intense indoctrination, the seventeen year old Clarisse McClellan is a surprising outcast who still believes in questions and wonder. She criticizes that her classmates “name a lot of cars or swimming pools mostly and say how swell…but they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anyone else” (Bradbury, F 451, 28). Instead of following that socially accepted behavior, Clarisse chooses to ask the why in protest and in tribute to the part of innate humanity that pursues individuality. Yet, even though her behavioral protest to the social doctrine is similar to Standehl’s rebellion against the established condemnation of fantasy and books, she does not have the same glorious fate as Standehl. As Captain Beatty, the representative of the majority and the firm believer in the established structure of conformity, later explains—“She was a time bomb. She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why…The poor girl’s better off dead” (Bradbury, F 451, 58). And she is. The fatal end of Clarisse, most likely fabricated by Beatty and his majority bunch, “shows how intolerance for opposing ideas helps lead to the stifling of individual expression and hence of thought” (McGiveron). Yet this process contradicts the outcome of Standehl, as he is in the end victorious in the combat of individuality v. conformity. One may suspect this polarizing contrast of Clarisse’s fate from Standehl’s in confronting pre-established government regulation to be an error in Bradbury’s philosophy, but given the historical context, this in fact may be due to the change of his philosophy. Chronicles is a collection of short stories Bradbury published in the years 1944-1950; since then, many issues that Bradbury addresses in Chronicles had changed, or escalated. When Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953, the McCarthy movement was at its height when all opposing opinions seem to lead to accusations and outcasting. And not only was it a time for the Red Scare, it was also when people were just generally so focused on the absolute Americanism that they either oppressed or ignored any contradiction to their ideology. Such a change in social and political absolutism must have shifted Bradbury’s view on government tolerance to freedom of expression, from hopeful to grim.
Many critics claim that The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 contain prophetic interpretation of the future. Yet, while the imagination that Bradbury shows within his stories indicates that he has the capacity to predict the future, the act of doing so requires an active willingness to see the unknown. Bradbury’s attitude in his books suggests a more depressing and passive incentive. Through his increasingly bleak portrayal of characters that manifests the different sides of government’s combat to conformity, Bradbury expresses his evolving disillusionment with the future of freedom of expression and government tolerance of it. The fact that Bradbury does not focus on the practicality of his worlds, such as Mars having sustainable air for people to live on and children learning about materialistic trivia for school, rules out his incentive to prophesize. Instead, Bradbury intends to evoke the similar grim emotion in his readers so that they can understand and take caution in their response to conformity. As he declared in his 1980 interview and his discussion with the Los Angeles Times thirty years later, “I’m not a futurist. People ask me to predict the future, while all I want to do is prevent it.”
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012. Print.
Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York: Harper Perennial, 2011. Print.
George, Lynell. “Ray Bradbury Dies at 91; Author Lifted Fantasy to Literary Heights.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 06 June 2012. Web. 16 May 2013.
McGiveron, Rafeeq O. “What ‘Carried the Trick’? Mass Exploitation and the Decline of Thought in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.” Extrapolation 37.3 (Fall 1996): 245-256. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 235. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Literature Resource Center. Web. December 2012.
Hoskinson, Kevin. “The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury’s Cold War Novels.” Extrapolation 36.4 (Winter 1995): 345-359. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 235. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Literature Resource Center. Web. January 2013.
“Ray Douglas Bradbury.” 2013. The Biography Channel website. December 2012. http://www.biography.com/people/ray-bradbury-9223240.