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Free Study Guide: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

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FREE ONLINE STUDY NOTES: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES

June 2001: - and the Moon Be Still as Bright

CHARACTERS

Jeff Spender
Archaeologist of the fourth expedition who kills several of his fellow crewmen to save Mars.

Wilder
Captain of the fourth expedition, torn between Spender's values and his duty to the expedition.

Cheroke
Crewman of the fourth expedition who is part Cherokee, killed by Spender.

Hathaway
Physician / geologist of the expedition who discovers the Martians died of chickenpox.

Sam Parkhill
Crewman of the fourth expedition, especially intent on killing Spender after he commits murder.

Gibbs
Crewman of the fourth expedition.

Biggs
A boorish crewman of the fourth expedition, killed by Spender.

Schoenke
Crewman of the fourth expedition.

Whitie
Crewman of the fourth expedition.

McClure
Crewman of the fourth expedition.

Cookie
Cook of the fourth expedition, killed by Spender.


CONFLICT

Protagonist

Spender wishes to spare Mars and the now-dead Martian culture of any further indignities at the hands of Earthians.

Antagonist

Wilder pursues his duty and hunts down Spender when he goes renegade, even though he has strong sympathies for Spender's beliefs.

Climax

Spender kills five men and is hunted down.


Outcome

With Spender dead, the colonization of Mars by Earth proceeds unhindered.


THEMES

The struggle of colonization is embodied by two attitudes towards colonization. Spender represents the sympathetic side of colonization, as he goes Spender "goes native" and embraces Martian culture even with the Martians presumed dead. He calls himself "the last Martian" right before his killing spree. Thus, Spender also embodies a related theme of zealotry in the face of opposition. How far should one go to protect something one loves? How much can we accept such actions if the intentions are meant to be honorable?

Biggs and Parkhill embody the "dark" side of colonization, those whose only concern is self-interest. They not only want to be recognized for the greatness of their accomplishment, mirroring the vanity of the Second Expedition in "The Earthmen", they also now believe themselves entitled to the spoils of their deeds: Biggs names a canal after himself while in a drunken stupor, and Parkhill uses Martian artifacts for target practice.

Wilder falls in between thematically, thus in terms of the plot: he accepts the decision to colonize Mars but is sympathetic of Spender's desire to protect Mars from Earthians. When Spender crosses the line with the murders, he chases after Spender but gives him a chance to escape; it is Spender's understanding of his own unflinching idealism - a refusal to allow any further harm done to Mars, even if it means killing more Earthians - that forces Wilder to kill him. However, the story closes with Wilder punching Parkhill after defacing Martian artifacts - showing he's still sympathetic to Spender's ideals, just not willing to go as far.


Summary

The twenty men of the fourth expedition have landed on Mars but are uneasy about their arrival until Biggs asks Captain Wilder for permission to celebrate. As they proceed to set up a small party for the twenty explorers, Hathaway returns from his expedition to various Martian cities: while some have been dead for thousands of years, he found one city whose inhabitants died only last week from chickenpox. As the celebration begins and Biggs becomes drunk and more obnoxious, Spender expresses doubts to Wilder about human nature and what they've already done to Mars and Martian civilization. Fourteen of the men then visited one of the Martian cities, where Spender quoted Lord Byron when trying to imagine what the last Martian must have felt. He then walked off, leaving behind the others.

Days later, Spender returns to the expedition: meeting Biggs, he declares himself the last Martian and shoots Briggs dead. He then goes further and encounters Cookie and four other men having breakfast; Spender kills all but Cheroke, who is part Cherokee. Spender believes Cheroke will understand why he did this but, disappointed to find out otherwise, kills him as well. When the bodies are discovered by the others, Wilder orders them buried; Parkhill is enraged and ready to kill Spender. The men hunt down Spender and try to kill him, but Spender notes that grenades aren't used - he suspects Wilder wants a clean kill out of respect for him, which he finds odd. Wilder then approaches Spender with a truce flag: they discuss what Spender has discovered about Martian civilization, as well as Spender's plan to kill off everyone - including future expeditions - with the exception of Captain Wilder himself.

Realizing they are at an impasse and neither will change their plans, Wilder returns to the other men: Parkhill wishes to shoot Spender in the head, but Wilder orders the men to aim for the chest. They chase after Spender again, and Wilder insists that he kill Spender: he watches Spender from a distance, giving him the chance to escape, but Spender remains still and is finally shot by the captain. Wilder and the other gather at the body, the captain feeling some responsibility for preserving Spender's beliefs about saving Mars; when he later finds Parkhill using a Martian city for target practice, he punches him.

Notes

Wilder, Hathaway, and Parkhill all appear in later stories, emphasizing their thematic importance to the chronicles. The name "Sam Parkhill" strongly evokes the term "Sam Hill" - an old-fashioned slang term for "hell". And indeed, the arrival of Parkhill is the arrival of a human "hell" on Mars, epitomized by the desecration of pure land and the seeming genocide of the Martian race. The Martian death at the hands of chickenpox brought by Earthians is a clear allusion to the death of Native Americans by European explorers who brought smallpox-infested blankets as gifts. The way that Spender goes native and wishes to become a Martian mirrors the last story in the collection. As with "Usher II", Bradbury wishes to create a morally complex situation: his "hero" Spender has noble ideals we are likely to share theoretically, but enforces his beliefs through murder. Like Wilder, we have to define a compromise that may not be as idealistic but may ultimately be more humane.


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