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Literature Study GuidesThe Martian ChroniclesApril 2000 The Third Expedition Summary

The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury

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The Martian Chronicles | April 2000: The Third Expedition | Summary



When Captain John Black and his crew arrive on Mars, they find it looks exactly like their hometowns back on Earth. They see green lawns, Victorian-style houses, and even porch swings. They spin several theories to explain how this could be, including divine intervention, time travel, or a secret project in 1905 to send a rocket to Mars.

But then David Lustig, the ship's navigator, finds his grandparents who say they have been on Mars since they died 30 years prior. A woman claims to be living in Green Bluff, Illinois, not Mars. The rest of the crew members abandon their posts on the ship to reconnect with relatives, and Captain Black's long-dead brother Ed takes him to the old family home where he spends a pleasant afternoon.

While he lies in bed next to Ed that night, Captain Black comes up with a new theory: the Martians have used telepathy and hypnosis in conjunction with the humans' memories to lure them in and then kill them. Captain Black gets up to escape, but it's too late. The next day the Martians dig 16 graves and bury the crew of the third expedition.


By the time the third expedition lands, the Martians have realized the danger the humans pose and have gone on the offensive, using the crew's nostalgia to attack them. Bradbury spins a chilling tale about the danger of complacency, but he taps into a real human need for familial bonds. Even Captain Black, who describes himself as more suspicious than the others because of his advanced age, lets himself fall for it, just for the chance to be with his loved ones again. The Martian disguised as Captain Black's mother admonishes him not to ask questions, an obvious ploy to keep him complacent.

The Martians' plan seems justified in response to the narrow-mindedness of the second expedition's crew. They can tell a peaceful coexistence with such an attitude is unlikely. The crew of the third expedition actually seems interested in learning something new. As archaeologist Samuel Hinkston puts it, they "may be on the threshold of the greatest psychological and metaphysical discovery of our age." And they do in fact discover a lot about the way the Martians operate but never get the chance to pass on that warning to the next expedition.

The fact the Martians disguised as the crew's human relatives keep up the charade even after they are dead—giving human burial rites, burying coffins, and playing a tribute song with a brass band—points to the continuing infection of humanity onto the Martian identity.

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