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Free Study Guide for The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury-MonkeyNotes
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

When we consider that the major characters of The Martian Chronicles are not individuals but whole races and planets, the importance of Bradbury's implicit question becomes clear: can mankind learn its lesson or is it doomed to self-destruction? As "- And the Moon Be Still as Bright" and "A Night Meeting" shows, Bradbury can take the very long perspective and acknowledge that all civilizations eventually die out, that the life of one race is a mere blink in the cosmic scheme of things. Further, the Earthian community he depicts in the book is indeed less than ideal: its governments are corrupted by self-interest, leading to imbalances both economically (only the United States can afford to send settlers to Mars at first) and politically (the threat of atomic war looms for a long while before it occurs).

As for the planets themselves, Mars and Earth, they each go through changes of their own in the course of the book. Both start as planets with thriving races, but the actions of Earth's people lead to the destruction of the civilizations on both races. What we wind up with at the end of the Chronicles is the death of Mars' native beings and the near-death of Earth's native beings, which is considered an act of cleansing in "The Million Year Picnic".


Does mankind learn its lesson? Not as a community, apparently - Bradbury is either too much the cynic, the realist, or the philosopher to see human civilization continuing on its current path unimpeded. Ultimately, then, he finds hope in the actions of individuals: the seeds of a more humane humanity lie in the decisions made by the Thomas family to start anew on a new planet. But even that becomes symbolic of the greater community: they are no longer just the Thomas family, after all, they have become the new Martians, the start of a new civilization that purges itself of all the faults of the previous civilization.

PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The book is obviously designed as a series of short stories tied together by the same theme and over-arching narrative arc: the exploration and colonization of Mars by people from Earth. The very title - using the word "chronicle" in a classic sense - makes the story's scope broadly historical rather than one concerned primarily with individual lives and achievements. This works towards Bradbury's strengths as a writer, as he uses science fiction tropes for allegories on human nature.

The main hazard of such a collection is a lack of coherence between the different stories, that the unity among the pieces wouldn't be as strong as the author or readers would wish. Indeed, there are certain stories that did not satisfy Bradbury as a good fit for The Martian Chronicles, notably "Up in the Air" and "Usher II" - more for their lack of thematic congruity than anything else. That said, the use of vignettes or "bridges" as transitions between different phases of Mars' colonization by Earth serves to better tie together the short stories, giving them coherence both in plot and in theme. Thematically, these vignettes often take place from a community perspective: that is, a feeling or intuition that runs across a wide swath of people, a general opinion more than a specific point of view. (The main exception is "The Taxpayer", though the very title generalizes the vignette's sentiment in a similar manner.)

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