Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles: A Warning Against Hatred
edited: Wednesday, February 27, 2002
By Charlotte M Spurrill
Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2002
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Commentary on Ray Bradbury's clasic stories of Mars
"'And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars'"(Matthew 24:6 NKJV) Jesus tells us, prophesying an unwelcome future most hope will never be reality. Still, the recent horrifying terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. underscore reality: we really don’t know what the future will be like. Thus, these attacks also cause many to worry that the future will be filled with more such violence.
Likewise, in the years following the Second World War, many science fiction authors such as Ray Bradbury foresaw similar violent futures, and described futuristic worlds to comment on their culture and to warn their readers of where the world was headed if nothing changed. In his 1950 book, The Martin Chronicles, Bradbury warns us that, above all, we must stop hating one another in order to avoid the disturbingly bleak future described in his stories.
An obvious type of hatred explored in The Martin Chronicles is racism. Racist sentiments by whites towards blacks in the southern United States, is dealt with in the stirring story, "Way in the Middle of the Air"(89-102), where Samuel Teece, a white man, tries to prevent his black employee, "Silly"(97), from moving to Mars with "'every single [black person] in the South'"(90). Teece actually thinks he can bully Silly into staying because he is white and therefore obviously in charge.
Also, we find in another story that, since the United States has all the rockets, only Americans come to Mars. Therefore, the diversity of the populations of Earth is sadly not represented in the human colonies on Mars.
Further, the racist mindset, fearing all that is different and not understood, extends to the remaining Martins. Sam Parkhill, the "'first man on Mars with a hot-dog stand'"(133), kills two unarmed Martians, the first by "'mistake'"(135) since he "'thought'"(135) he saw the Martin draw a weapon. The second he kills when her refusal to "'Get off [his] ship'"(137) prompts violence from he who is still "undecided between fear and hate"(137). On the other hand, the Martians, who do not hate Parkhill—even after he kills their friends—do not respond to his violence in kind.
A less obvious form of hate, prejudice based on ideas, also makes appearances in The Martin Chronicles, and also brings violence with it like a sidekick. In the sinister "Usher II"(103-118), William Stendahl, a former librarian obsessed with Poe’s writing and angry at those who "'burned'"(106) books and regulated originality, murders fifty-five "members of the Society for the Prevention of Fantasy...good clean citizens"(112) in his newly built "'haunted castle'"(107). We see hate breeding hate in this story as the majority’s hatered for imagination feeds Stendahl’s hatred for them; and as with all unchecked hatred, this leads to violence and death—in this case, grisly mass-murder.
Much like Stendahl’s hatred, the hatred between nations on Earth leads to violence and death, granted on a much larger scale. The "'atom bombs'"(135) that infest the Earth in Bradbury’s future, multiplying like bacteria in a petri dish, are accessible tools of hatred, eventually destroying Earth and all life on it. The colonists on Mars see "[Earth] burn[ing] with an unholy dripping glare for a minute, three times normal size, then dwindl[ing]"(143) as they observe the beginning of the atomic warfare.
Families in Earth’s major cities are transformed into nothing more than "silhouette[s] in paint"(167) on the walls of buildings, with no one left to remember them save a few starving dogs, and at least one computer that reads poetry. It is a bleak yet quite believable vision of the future, if things continue in the direction they seem to be heading now.
In the end, the reader hopes that if Bradbury’s predictions are valid—and they certainly seem to be—we will remember the warning and change. We know some of the disturbing trends of hatred Bradbury observed in his time have been changing for the better. Most of us are not nearly as openly racist as Teece, but racism still exists—not necessarily towards black people, but there are many races others may choose to hate. Our world still has too many nuclear warheads, among other horrific tools of war, and international relations are clearly far from flawless. Living in Western culture, we enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of the press, so long as the owner of the press agrees with our ideas.
If we want to avoid the future Bradbury envisions, we need to learn to love—not only those in our family, community, country, or religion—but to love everyone simply because they are people.