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The Martian Chronicles | Themes

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Conformity versus Individualism

Ray Bradbury hated American conformity, and therefore his protagonists tend to be nonconformists, while his antagonists do what others do.

The characters he portrays in the most positive light are individualists. Take Benjamin Driscoll, who plants seeds on Mars while the other settlers mine in "December 2001: The Green Morning." There's also Tomás Gomez and Muhe Ca, a human and a Martian who actually engage in peaceful conversation instead of treating each other like enemies in "August 2002: Night Meeting." William Thomas actually burns all his papers from Earth so his children will not even know how to conform in "October 2026: The Million-Year Picnic."

Bradbury reserves his most vicious deaths for the Investigator of Moral Climates in "April 2005: Usher II." These are conformists of the highest degree, so eager to unquestioningly carry out the orders of others they do not even know the content of the books they burn. One might even compare them to robots, and Bradbury literally does: making robot copies of Stendahl's rivals that comment blandly on the brutal deaths of their originals to lull Garrett into complacency (a trick that mimics the Martians' trap in "April 2000: The Third Expedition"—though much more crudely).

Destructive Nature of Humanity

Bradbury heavily criticizes what he sees as humanity's inclination toward destruction. When left to their own devices, small-minded characters like Biggs and Sam Parkhill in "June 2001: —and the Moon Be Still As Bright" and the children in "April 2003: The Musicians" choose to shoot down buildings and desecrate bones. And not all of humanity's destruction is even deliberate. The explorers bring chicken pox with them to set an accidental Martian genocide in motion. While humanity's actions are certainly detrimental to others, they are also self-harming, as is the case of the atomic war that leads to Earth's demise.

Bradbury shows humankind cannot simply rocket off to another planet to escape this destructive nature, because it is something inherent in society. To avoid an apocalyptic fate, Bradbury seems to propose humanity needs a complete reboot, or at least more individuals who are willing to resist the pressure to conform.

Memory and Nostalgia

While Bradbury might sometimes like to burn all human achievement to the ground as he has William Thomas do symbolically in "October 2026: The Million-Year Picnic" by setting alight his papers from Earth, he also sees a hurdle to this course of action: human reliance on memories and nostalgia for identity and survival of the spirit.

The Martians exploit this particularly human trait in "April 2000: The Third Expedition," setting a trap for their human invaders by painstakingly recreating their childhood homes complete with revived family members. And later, in "April 2026: The Long Years" Hathaway finds he must create hyperrealistic facsimiles of his dead family in order to go on.

Bradbury repeatedly shows the danger of overreliance on memory and nostalgia. Martian "Tom" in "September 2005: The Martian" has the involuntary habit of assuming the identity of humans' loved ones by raiding their memories. This leads to him being overwhelmed by competing memories and dying. And in "November 2005: The Watchers", humans give in to their nostalgia to return to an Earth on a crash course with cataclysm. Bradbury acknowledges that memory and nostalgia are important, but also warns against becoming dependent on it.

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