Symbolism and Motifs

Certain motifs are repeated in various stories of this collection, some exploring different aspects of the same image.

The tattoos are the first motif in the story, symbolizing the lure and danger of storytelling. This unifies the collection, providing the metafictive means to tie together the stories in one setting (the body of the Illustrated Man) as well as set the serious tone for the stories themselves.


Technology is a primary motif of these stories, which is natural given the science fiction genre that many of these stories ostensibly inhabit. The rocket is perhaps the most obvious symbol of this: it not only captures the thrill and danger of space travel itself (in "Kaleidoscope" and "The Rocket"), but also colonialism (in "The Man" and "The Concrete Mixer") and the bridging of cultures, whether for good ("The Other Foot" and "The Fire Baloons") or bad ("The City"). We also see the corruption of the human body by technology in the makeshift cyborgs of "The City" and the robot duplicates of "Marionettes, Inc." - both vivid examples of how technology can be turned on the very people who use them.

Another motif is dangerous children - not just the homicidal tots of "The Veldt" and "Zero Hour" but also the narrator Doug of "The Rocket Man," who is enthralled by the space travel which kills his father. What the dangerous children embody is a crisis in family, the inability of this basic social unit to understand itself properly.

War and political strife is the last major motif of the book, designed by Bradbury to reflect the concerns of that era. The struggle for civil rights is evident in "The Other Foot" and the fear of censorship is the premise of "The Exiles". War defines several stories, including "The Highway," "The Fox and the Forest," and "The City". Given such social strife, it's only natural that there'd be more profound expressions of doubt, seen in the motif of faith or the lack thereof: in "The Man" and "No Particular Night or Morning" an inability to place faith in its proper perspective proves damaging to individual men, while the tepid morality of "The Last Night of the World" may have led to the death of an entire planet. In sharp contrast, the faith expressed in "The Fire Balloons" takes an unexpected turn and provides a new window to spiritual redemption for the humans involved.

Important/Key Facts Summary

The Illustrated Man.

Author: Ray Bradbury.
Date Published: 1951.
Meaning of Title: The character whose tattoos comprise the stories in this short story collection.
Setting: Wisconsin woods in frame sequences.

Genre: Science; fiction primarily.
Protagonist: The Illustrated Man.
Antagonist: The narrator.
Mood: Serious, often bleak.
Point of View: Varies, but primarily third person omniscient.
Tense: Mostly present tense, third person.

Rising Action: The Illustrated Man introduces himself to the narrator.
Exposition: The Illustrated Man's eighteen tattoos tell their stories - that is, the stories in this collection.
Climax: The narrator sees a tattoo of himself being strangled by the Illustrated Man.

Outcome: The narrator runs away, seeking safety.
Major Theme: The lure and danger of story-telling.
Minor Themes: In the stories: the danger of the creative mind, the abuse of technology, the threat of atomic war, the acceptance of death.

Cite this page:

Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on Illustrated Man". TheBestNotes.com. . 09 May 2017
             <>.