The Martian Chronicles: Ray Bradbury’s Warning
Bradbury’s Warning in The Martian Chronicles
Ray Bradbury, one of the world’s most acclaimed authors, said himself: “I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it”. His intentions are clearly expressed in several of his works; one of the most prominent being The Martian Chronicles. The time period in which Bradbury published this novel was laced with many issues, but the most significant was the beginning of the Cold War. Following World War II and the atomic bombings of Japan, advancement of technology started to become an important aspect in our civilization. However, the rate at which our technology was advancing was a bit alarming. The threat of a nuclear attack was becoming more and more imminent. Our race was quickly planning our own annihilation. Therefore, Bradbury took the chance to use the Chronicles as a warning to the human race.
We begin to see the allusions to the Cold War in the chapter named “The Taxpayer”. A man named Pritchard was begging to be taken to Mars along with the Third Expedition. He claimed that “anybody with any sense wanted to get away from Earth. There was going to be a big atomic war on Earth in about two years, and he didn’t want to be here when it happened” (Bradbury 40). Immediately there are people fleeing their world, rather than fighting for its safety. Therefore, when it was discovered that Mars had the ability to sustain life, fleeing Earth became more popular among its inhabitants. Thus, according to Bradbury, the human solution to a problem is to ignore the problem all together. The humans saw Mars as a land that needed to be colonized solely for themselves. So, they ignored the existing life forms that were currently inhabiting the planet and inadvertently destroyed the entire civilization. Morgan Harlow, a literary critic, also comments that “the colonization of Mars… is characterized by greed and ignorance” (184). Martian towns and cities are entirely overlooked and replaced by those built by the incoming humans. Consequently, Martian history is completely disregarded by all but one character.
Bradbury’s commentary on the human disposition is quite clearly depicted in the character of Spender. Spender is the only person in the entire novel that is concerned about the history and language of the deceased Martians. He breaks away from his expedition party specifically to discover more about the lives of Mars’ former inhabitants (Bradbury 78). Yet, it is this discovery that leads to the betrayal of his entire team. Spender explained to Captain Wilder that he’s “seen that what these Martians had was just as good as anything we’ll ever hope to have”, but “anything that’s strange is no good to the average American” (84). By using this character, Bradbury questions the intentions of humanity. If humanity was given the chance to improve itself, would it be taken? The common thought was to forget about the war on Earth and focus on the “new” life on Mars. The problem is that this “new” life was not new at all, but only a continuation of the old life on Earth. Therefore, ignorance only, according to Bradbury, prevents one’s self-improvement. So the construction of the new colony on Mars will only end up destroying it, just as it has destroyed Earth. Spender finishes his rant by asking whether it is “enough they’ve ruined one planet, without ruining another” (85). I believe that this is Bradbury further proving his point: if humanity doesn’t act now, the cycle of destruction will continue forever.
Morgan Harlow states that by using this novel “Ray Bradbury reminds us that the world will become what we make of it” (183). At the rate at which tension between countries is growing, Bradbury suggests it is only a matter of time before a war breaks out and the entire population is destroyed. We see the predicted outcome of this war in the chapter “There Will Come Soft Rains”. The chapter depicts the complete devastation created by a nuclear bomb. Only one house is left standing, but somehow it is still able to run on its own. A clock keeps time and an oven continues to prepare food for a family that will never return. It only comes to an end when a tree branch crashes into the roof (Bradbury 228). Civilization has completely disappeared, leaving nature to run its course and reclaim what was originally its own. This chapter serves as a reminder towards humanity of what could become the future.
The novel ends with a family that has escaped the havoc on Earth by traveling to Mars. The family fully intends to reestablish the human race, but by taking a different approach. The father burns all governmental records so that it was impossible to prove that civilization on Earth ever existed (239). This act coincides with the acts committed by Spender. In order to improve society and avoid future wars, humanity must change its ways. Whether it is by learning from the history of another life force or by creating a whole new set of laws, humanity needs to make a change. We cannot ignore new ideas just because they are new and foreign to our pool of knowledge. If we continue to be led by ignorance, history will just repeat itself again and again until the eventual destruction of humanity. As Harlow stated, by using The Martian Chronicles “Bradbury… sought to redirect the course of technology and prevent the human race from self-annihilation” (183). Therefore, Bradbury, in trying to “prevent the future”, has created an entertaining, yet incredibly realistic story that will most definitely remain an influence to the many generations to come.
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