Literature Study GuidesThe Martian ChroniclesAugust 1999 The Earth Men Summary

The Martian Chronicles | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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The Martian Chronicles | August 1999: The Earth Men | Summary

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Summary

Captain Williams and his men in the second expedition are bewildered and exasperated when they encounter various Martians who are unimpressed with their arrival and seem only concerned with the minutiae of their own lives. For example, Mrs. Ttt cares only for her cooking and sewing; the little Martian girl is absorbed in playing with her mechanical spider; and Mr. Iii is preoccupied with the lecture he is to give.

Finally, Mr. Iii offers his congratulations and has Captain Williams sign some papers. Mr. Iii gives him a key, which unlocks a hall full of admirers. The men are thrilled to finally be getting their due praise. Then they realize they have been committed to an insane asylum where the patients claim to be from various other planets.

Mr. Xxx, the head psychologist, confirms they are merely having hallucinations and gives them the cure: death. Accordingly, he shoots each of the Earth men. However, when their corpses do not disappear, Mr. Xxx fears he has caught the insanity and commits suicide.

Analysis

The tone of this story shifts the narrative again, this time to a tragicomedy. Try as they might, Captain Williams and his men just cannot get the respect they crave for their daring journey across the stars. The Martians' disregard for them becomes increasingly farcical until it ends in a murder-suicide. This grisly conclusion might have been avoided if the two races had tried to learn more about and understand the other.

Bradbury characterizes Captain Williams and his crew as solicitous but remarkably uncurious about the Martian way of life. The captain even drives this point home by declaring to one of the Martians: "We don't want to know anything ... We already know it." They mean well but are out of their depth. Because they are trapped by their own narrow-mindedness, they do not realize the danger they pose to the Martians—or the Martians to them—until it is too late. Bradbury has the Martians instruct the humans to lock themselves behind a door to symbolize how closed off they both are to each other.

The Martians' telepathy, which should lead to better communication, is used in a selective way as a powerful tool against the humans. But letting humans into their minds has the unintended consequence of making some of them vulnerable to insanity as well.

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