The Illustrated Man | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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The Illustrated Man | Symbols



The Illustrations on the Illustrated Man are not just tattoos. They come alive, evoke the senses, and tell stories. They symbolize the act of storytelling, in all of its imaginative power. In this way they symbolically develop and support the theme of imagination. The Illustrations create a narrative that becomes real. Imagination can create and animate.

The Illustrations also show that imagination can be a force of good or ill. It is a risky—even dangerous—power. Some of the stories the pictures tell are dark and frightening. They foretell the end of the world, horrifying deaths, war and disease. But some are wonderful and hopeful. "The Other Foot" envisions a world of reconciliation after strife and war. "The Rocket" presents a family united by love and joy.

The Rocket

Throughout the collection are examples of futuristic technology that brings both wonder and suffering. Often, a technology meant for good ends up having a detrimental, unforeseen effect. The rocket is a symbol of that technology. In "The Rocket Man," a rocket represents excitement and adventure for Doug's dad—and for Doug too—but it also tears the family apart. Rockets are used for exploration but also for invasion and even for revenge, as in "The City." In "The Rocket," an old, broken-down rocket symbolizes a family's ability to remain close through a balance of imagination and technology.

When Ray Bradbury wrote this collection, scientists were just beginning to develop spaceflight. Much of the tension of that period is reflected in The Illustrated Man. Rocketry had the potential to take humans into space, on adventures, and into new knowledge. It also had military applications. This tension between technology's peaceful and violent applications was an important aspect of scientific research during the Cold War, the political and economic rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. That tension is reflected in the variety of stories collected here.


Books play an important role in several stories. For example, in "The Concrete Mixer," the main character gets all his ideas about Earth from reading its science fiction. But the books in "The Exiles" take on a symbolic role. These are books that contain fantastical, magical, supernatural worlds or creatures. In the story such books represent the human imagination—the belief in things beyond what can be discovered by science. A very clean and polished rocket captain decides to burn the books as a symbolic act of dedicating humans "all the more firmly to science and progress."

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