Literature Study GuidesThe Martian ChroniclesDecember 2005 The Silent Towns Summary

The Martian Chronicles | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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The Martian Chronicles | December 2005: The Silent Towns | Summary

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Summary

Now that nearly everyone has gone back to Earth, entire towns sit abandoned and lonely. Walter Gripp hardly ever gets back to civilization, so he misses out on the mass exodus back to Earth. At first he enjoys having all the luxuries for free and to himself, until he realizes he is truly alone.

When he hears a phone ring in someone's house, he takes it as a sign someone somewhere on Mars is still around. He becomes obsessed with calling women from the phone book and hoping they will pick up. Finally, Genevieve Selsor answers and her voice is kind.

But Genevieve is not the beauty Walter expects. She is overweight and annoying, and Walter cannot stand her. When Genevieve shows him a wedding dress and declares her intention to marry him, he flees. He holes up in a faraway town and never again answers the phone.

Analysis

On the surface Walter's story is a romantic comedy gone wrong. He is in the habit of going into town from his mining operation to "see if he could marry a quiet and intelligent woman" but always leaves disappointed. A phone ringing in his silent town reminds him of his desire to be with a woman, and after numerous missed connections, he finally finds her by ringing a beauty parlor: the last woman on Mars! And not only that—the last woman on Mars wants to marry him. Too bad the last woman on Mars is a far cry from his dream woman, as she is neither quiet nor intelligent.

But beneath this surface comedy of errors, Bradbury reveals his bleak pessimism regarding human nature. At first he seems to lament the departure of man, having Walter play the sad music of "That Old Gang of Mine" to fill the lonely streets. Then, Walter feels urgently motivated to seek out a woman, perhaps with the goal of preventing the extinction of his kind. But Bradbury subverts this Adam-and-Eve plot trope by having Genevieve be so distasteful, Walter would rather be alone and leave humankind to die out.

The nostalgia evoked in Walter when hearing Genevieve's sweet voice over the telephone line leads to unrealistic expectations of perfection, and when Genevieve cannot meet them, Walter would rather reject further communion with humanity. Genevieve is authentically herself, and does not conform to Earth society's standards of femininity. Instead of following the masses back to Earth, she stays on Mars ostensibly "because everyone picked on [her]," but more symbolically because as a nonconformist, she can be more open to the possibilities on Mars. Despite her negative depiction in the limited third-person point of view of Walter, Genevieve is arguably a heroic outlier in the vein of Tomás in "August 2002: Night Meeting" or Stendahl in "April 2005: Usher II."

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