The Martian Chronicles | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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The Martian Chronicles | Plot Summary

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Summary

January 1999: Rocket Summer

The novel opens in 1999, nearly 50 years in the future at the time of its publication. People on Earth are getting excited about colonizing Mars and send several missions. When the first rocket launches, it is so hot that it melts the winter. People come outside to watch it and take off their coats.

February 1999: Ylla

The first mission is manned by two astronauts, Nathaniel York and Bert. A Martian women, Ylla, dreams of their arrival. Her dreams upset her husband, Yll, and when she makes plans to meet the Earth men, Yll prevents her from leaving the house and goes out with a rifle to kill them.

August 1999: The Summer Night

Martians all over Mars begin dreaming about the arrival of a second expedition. A singer is overcome by a foreign song, and children begin to recite nursery rhymes in English. They are frightened and have the premonition that something bad is coming.

August 1999: The Earth Men

When the crew of the second expedition arrives, the Martians act unimpressed because they believe the explorers are simply insane Martians. The head Martian psychologist, Mr. Xxx, is impressed by how real Captain Williams and his crew's "delusions" are. He kills them, and when their corpses do not disappear, Mr. Xxx fears he has been infected and commits suicide.

March 2000: The Taxpayer

Before the third mission launches, a taxpayer demands to be allowed to board the rocket because he dutifully pays his taxes, but he is denied. He becomes increasingly hysterical, warning of impending nuclear war and the authorities drag him off.

April 2000: The Third Expedition

Captain John Williams and the crew of the third mission land on Mars to find their dead relatives welcoming them home in a town that looks just like it came from the midwestern United States. Though Captain Williams is suspicious, his crew is too overcome by nostalgia to resist joining their families. The crew discovers too late the Martians are using telepathic illusions to draw them in and kill them.

June 2001: —and the Moon Be Still As Bright

The crew of the fourth mission, led by Captain Wilder, finally succeeds in staying alive, despite crew-member Spender's best attempts to murder them because of his radical Martian sympathies. They discover nearly all Martians have been wiped out by chicken pox.

August 2001: The Settlers

Now that the intrepid explorers have paved the way for them, the first human settlers arrive on Mars. These first settlers are the ones with the least to lose back on Earth. Some are escaping worse circumstances, and some have big dreams. But they still think of their lives on Earth.

December 2001: The Green Morning

Though these settlers are mainly miners, one settler succeeds in cultivating a forest of oxygen-rich Earth trees on Mars. This settler, Benjamin Driscoll, faints when he first arrives to Mars, so planting seeds becomes his mission so he does not have to return to Earth. Once his forest grows, he faints again.

February 2002: The Locusts

The next wave of settlers comes in swarms like locusts, hammering Mars into an environment more like Earth. The men hammer up frame cottages with shutters to keep out the Mars night. The women decorate with chintz and flowerpots so they do not have to think about their strange new environment.

August 2002: Night Meeting

A peaceful settler meets up with a Martian who claims the Martians are not dead but simply existing on a different plane of time. Both the human and the Martian see only their own cities and see the other as a ghost. They muse they would like to get to know the other's culture before they go their separate ways.

October 2002: The Shore

Settlers keep arriving in waves. At first mostly men arrive, then women prostitutes and then other women. But all the settlers are Americans. Rockets do not launch from other countries, so the culture remains homogeneous.

February 2003: Interim

Settlers bring lumber from California with them so they do not have to use Martian materials to build their homes and structures. They build churches and attend services and sing hymns just like they did back on Earth.

April 2003: The Musicians

Meanwhile, human children go into deserted Martian cities and desecrate them by playing music with Martians' bones. Their parents warn them against going into the cities, but they do it anyway, looking for a fun adventure, and when they get home, their parents punish them.

June 2003: Way in the Middle of the Air

In the American South the black minority escape their oppression by leaving for Mars. This irks the white majority, especially Samuel Teece, who relies on his black servants for protection. Samuel tries to prevent his servant, Silly, from emigrating to Mars, but Grandpa Quartermain agrees to take on Silly's debt, much to Samuel's chagrin.

2004–2005: The Naming of Names

The settlers bring with them their American traditions and moral standards and rename all Martian settlements with American-sounding names. Thus there is a Spender Hill and a Nathaniel York Town as well as Iron Town, Steel Town, and Detroit II.

April 2005: Usher II

A wealthy literature lover gets his revenge on censorship advocates by building a deadly mansion in the style of Edgar Allan Poe's "House of Usher" on Mars. He creates robots that look exactly like his enemies, invites them to a party, and then watches as they die in the same way Poe's characters die in his stories.

August 2005: The Old Ones

The last wave of settlers comes from the older generation. They are ancient and their bones crackle. Where once they might have vacationed in Europe, they now take the opportunity to come to Mars, making sure to bring all their medicines with them.

September 2005: The Martian

One such couple gets their dead son back, but he is really a Martian who is susceptible to human memories and has no control over whose form he assumes. This Martian, whom the old couple calls Tom, brings joy to the old man and his wife until the wife demands they take a trip into town. Tom is overwhelmed by the townspeople's memories of their dead loved ones and dies, leaving the couple once again childless and sad.

November 2005: The Luggage Store

The rumors of nuclear war on Earth grow stronger among the settlers. A proprietor of a luggage store muses the war will be good for his business because people will need suitcases to pack their things in when they return to Earth.

November 2005: The Off Season

Sam Parkhill, part of the crew of the fourth expedition, builds a hot-dog stand to cash in on the flow of immigrants from Earth. The surviving Martians appear to him and want to speak with him, but he runs away and uses violence against them. When they catch up with him, they sign over their land to him and then alert him to the explosions on Earth just before they occur.

November 2005: The Watchers

Settlers all over Mars watch as their home planet lights up in fires. They suddenly remember all the people they left behind on Earth, and they want to see them again. They pack up and return to Earth, just as the luggage-store proprietor had predicted. He sells out of luggage quickly.

December 2005: The Silent Towns

Only a few human stragglers remain on Mars. One of them is Walter Gripp who always wished to marry a "nice" lady. He searches far and wide for a human woman, but when he finds her, he decides she is so obnoxious, he would rather live out the rest of his years as a hermit.

April 2026: The Long Years

Another human straggler on Mars is Hathaway, a survivor of the fourth mission, who is so lonely after his family dies he builds robot companions in their likenesses. Captain Wilder returns from his expedition to the outer planets of the solar system just in time to have breakfast with Hathaway and witness his death. Though Wilder's crew thinks he should kill Hathaway's robot family, Wilder lets them live.

August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains

Back on Earth a long-abandoned automated house goes through the motions of the day—preparing breakfast, cleaning up, playing music, filling the children's room with holographic animals, and reading a Sara Teasdale poem. Finally, a storm causes it to catch fire and it dies.

October 2026: The Million-Year Picnic

A family from Earth uses a hidden rocket to fly to Mars. The oldest son, Timothy, speculates his father has brought him, his mother, and his brothers to Mars for more than a vacation, and he turns out to be right. His father symbolically burns his papers from Earth. The whole family looks at their reflections in the water. They are now "Martians."

The Martian Chronicles Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Humans set out to colonize Mars.

Rising Action

2 Martians kill the crews of the first three missions.

3 Martians die off from chicken pox.

4 The fourth mission is successful.

5 Settlers arrive on Mars.

6 Settlers mold Mars into a likeness of Earth.

Climax

7 Earth erupts in nuclear war.

Falling Action

8 Mars settlements are abandoned.

Resolution

9 After Earth dies, one family starts anew on Mars.

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