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About the Author

Raymond Douglas Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, to Leonard Spaulding and Esther Moberg Bradbury. He began his writing career while still a teenager, publishing Futuria Fantasia, a fan magazine. His first professional sale, the short story “Pendulum,” appeared in the November 1941 edition of Super Science Stories.

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Overview

The Martian Chronicles is a haunting collection of short stories that chronicles humankind’s colonization of Mars. Bradbury opens the volume with tales of the first three Mars expeditions, all of which meet with disaster, and goes on to relate the gradual encroachment of human-and, in particular, American-civilization on Earth’s neighboring planet. In a style that is concise yet poetic, Bradbury sketches the lives and aspirations of various individuals who come to Mars in search of revenge, glory, or simply the tranquility of a long-ago era on Earth. Their reactions to the alien environment reveal much about the society they left behind, and in the end, all notions of an escape from Earth prove illusory.

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Setting

The Martian Chronicles presents a series of connected tales ranging in time from January 1999 to October 2026. Most of the stories are set on Mars, although some-”Rocket Summer,” which opens the collection, “Way In the Middle of the Air,” and “There Will Come Soft Rains”-are set on Earth. Bradbury’s Mars is shaped by the preconceptions of the astronauts and settlers who explore it; they project their fantasies upon the landscape, and create a world that will help them recall the one they have left behind. But despite the new settlements (built of Oregon pine and California redwood) and the new names (Iron Town, Grain Villa, Detroit II), the land remains inescapably alien.

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Themes and Characters

Underlying Bradbury’s futuristic writing is an enormous nostalgia for the simplicity of wholesome, early-20th-century, small-town life. This nostalgia infuses both The Martian Chronicles and many of the author’s other works. His immigrants to Mars are usually looking for a place to call their own-a cozy home and a bit of land. When they reach Mars they immediately set about turning it into another, better version of their place of origin. In “The Off Season,” Sam Parkhill thinks that he has achieved his lifelong dream by opening up a roadside hot dog stand. Other new immigrants set up luggage stores, or plant maple and elm trees.

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Literary Qualities

Bradbury was for years science fiction’s premier literary stylist and, although his heavy use of adjectives and metaphors can seem cloying today, he remains one of the most sophisticated writers in the genre. He is particularly fond of similes, depicting “housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets” in “Rocket Summer” and spaceships landing on Mars in “The Locusts”: “The rockets came like drums, beating in the night. The rockets came like locusts, swarming and settling in blooms of rosy smoke.” Much of the metaphoric language in The Martian Chronicles slips easily into allegory, adding depth to Bradbury’s fiction.

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Social Sensitivity

Bradbury’s social and political philosophy has always been humanist, liberal, pacifist, and populist, and the stories in The Martian Chronicles frequently reflect these positions. “Way In the Middle of the Air,” for example, relates the disbelief and consternation of a group of white bigots when they discover that all of the local blacks are emigrating to Mars. The bigots are shown to be cruel and, in the final analysis, fashioners of their own fate, shortsighted oppressors who cannot fathom an existence suddenly lacking potential victims. Other stories, such as “There Will Come Soft Rains,” contain poignant warnings against the dangers of runaway technology, or the evils of nuclear war.

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Topics and Ideas for Papers

VII TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION

1. What elements of the book make Mars seem realistic? What elements make it seem fantastic?

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