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Free Study Guide for The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury-MonkeyNotes
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From "The Musicians"

Behind him would race six others, and the first boy there would be the Musician, playing the white xylophone bones beneath the outer covering of black flakes. A great skull would roll to view, like a snowball; they shouted! Ribs, like spider legs, plangent as a dull harp, and then the black flakes of mortality blowing all about them in their scuffling dance; the boys pushed and heaved and fell in the leaves, in the death that had turned the dead to flakes and dryness, into a fame played by boys whose stomachs gurgled with orange pop. (89)

There is something at once poetic and horrific in this description of the boys who play with the corpses of the dead Martians. Poetic in that it shows how beauty and joy can be found in the most unexpected places, given the right perspective and imagination. Horrific in that we are paying witness to the desecration of bodies of people who should be respected, that lives should not be dismissed so lightly. As mentioned before, this creates a tension in Bradbury’s work between the nostalgia of childhood and the criticism of the colonizing process: the boys may not be aware of the significance of their actions, but does that necessarily excuse it? Doesn’t such callousness carry beyond childhood, desensitizing and encouraging further acts of aggression such as the reckless colonizing of territories and the destruction of whole races?

From "Usher II"

"Every men, they said, must face reality. Must face the Here and Now! Everything that was not so must go. All the beautiful literary lies and flights of fancy must be shot in mid-air. So they lined them up against a library wall one Sunday morning thirty years ago in 1975; they lined them up, St. Nicholas and the Headless Horseman and Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin and Mother Goose - oh, what a wailing! - and shot them down, and burned the paper castles and the fairy frogs and old kings and the people who lived happily ever after (for of course it was a fact that nobody lived happily ever after!), and Once Upon A Time became No More!" (106)

Stendahl recalls the slow march of censorship that led to the Great Fire of 1975, how rational thinking was considered the only acceptable form of thinking and imagination became something fearful by governments. The vivid image of figures from childhood literature being lined up against a wall to be shot is interesting, evoking a sense of warfare and oppression. Notice also the colorful language and the use of capitalization to create a kind of agitated mood in Stendahl’s monologue, a theatrical flourish that is in keeping with his elaborate plans for Usher II itself.

From "The Luggage Store"

"I know, we came up here to get away from things - politics, the atom bomb, war, pressure groups, prejudice, laws - I know. But it's still home there. You wait and see. When the first bomb drops on America the people up here'll start thinking. They haven't been here long enough. A couple years is all. If they'd been here forty years, it'd be different, but they got relatives down there, and their home towns." (132)

The store proprietor reasons correctly why the Mars settlers will return home in the face of war on Earth. In doing so, he points out an inherent contradiction for settlers and immigrants of all sorts: they leave their homes in order to escape all the bad things and start anew, but as humans they still have roots and must pay heed to those roots when they are threatened. One can head to a bold new future, but the past is a powerful anchor for those who can still remember it.

From "The Off Season"

"Good old wonderful Earth. Send me your hungry and your starved. Something, something - how does that poem go? Send me your hungry, old Earth. Here's Sam Parkhill, his hot dogs all boiled, his chili cooking, everything neat as a pin. Come on, you Earth, send me your rocket!" (143)

Sam Parkhill not only desecrates the Martian landscape with his hot dog stand, he does the same to the poem associated with the Statue of Liberty. With his focus on personal benefit at the expense of all else - as well as the hubris to think of Earth as his to exploit - he is the book’s clearest example of how man’s noble quest for advancement can be corrupted and turned into something quite different.

Earth changed in the black sky. It caught fire. Part of it seemed to come apart in a million pieces, as if a gigantic jigsaw had exploded. It burned with an unholy dripping glare for a minute, three times normal size, then dwindled.

"What was that?" Sam looked at the green fire in the sky. "Earth," said Elma, holding her hands together. (143)

This description of Earth finally succumbing to atomic war and humans on the last march to self-destruction is typical Bradbury: simple declarative sentences with a disarmingly mundane simile (the exploding jigsaw puzzle) manages to convey an objective sense of the horror the Parkhills witness, making it both vivid and oddly distant for the reader. Further, one may consider the

From "The Long Years"

On nights when the wind comes over the dead sea bottoms and through the hexagonal graveyard, over four old crosses and one new one, there is a light burning in the low stone hut, and in that hut, as the wind roars by and the dust whirls and the cold stars burn, are four figures, a woman, two daughters, a son, tending a low fire for no reason and talking and laughing.

Night are night for every year and every year, for no reason at all, the woman comes out and looks at the sky, her hands up, for a long moment, looking at the green burning of Earth, not knowing why she looks, and then she goes back and throws a stick on the fire, and the wind comes up and the dead sea goes on being dead. (166)

The end of this story is instructive for the way Bradbury uses highly detailed descriptions to create a tableau that is first mundane (the family huddled together), then poignant (the wife looking up at the sky, uncomprehending of its significance). What adds a frisson of strangeness goes unspoken at this closing: that the people described here are all robots, unable to truly feel or understand, going through motions and routines because they are programmed to do so. Bradbury often plays with this kind of narrative hide-and-seek: depicting a seemingly normal situation before unraveling it with some imaginative flight of fancy. It is a stylistic variation on his thematic concern about the wonders found in everyday life.

From "The Million-Year Picnic"

"I'm burning away a way of life, just like that way of life is being burned clean of Earth right now. Forgive me if I talk like a politician. I am, after all, a former state governor, and I was honest and they hated me for it. Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in the mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines. Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth. That's what the silent radio means. That's what we ran away from." (180)

Much like Spender, Thomas criticizes the ways of Earth civilization and how science tends to outpace the other aspects of culture. Where Spender condemned Earth and Earthians on behalf of the native Martians that were destroyed, Thomas condemns Earth on behalf of the new Martians - himself, his family, other survivors - who wish to learn from the mistakes of an old civilization when starting over.

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