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Free Study Guide: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

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THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES: FREE BOOK NOTES

April 2005: Usher II

CHARACTERS

William Stendahl
Plans and creates Usher II, a house designed to take creative revenge on those who have censored the imaginative literature.

Bigelow
Architect of Usher II.

Garrett
Investigator of Moral Climates.

Pikes
Creates lifelike robots for Stendahl.

Mr. Steffens
A supporter of censorship who is one of Stendahl's victims.

Mr. Fletcher
A supporter of censorship who is one of Stendahl's victims.

Miss Pope
A supporter of censorship who is one of Stendahl's victims.

Miss Blunt
A supporter of censorship who is one of Stendahl's victims.

Miss Drummond
A supporter of censorship who is one of Stendahl's victims.



CONFLICT

Protagonist

William Stendahl, who wishes revenge on Mars for those who censored imaginative works of art on Earth.

Antagonist

Garrett, who embodies the censoring impulse Stendahl loathes.

Climax

Stendahl kills Garrett, among other representatives of the censoring movement.

Outcome

Like its namesake, Usher II is destroyed as Stendahl and his allies escape.


THEMES

Censorship, as well as the struggle between government restrictions and personal freedom. These themes are complicated by Stendahl's murderous plan, which brings up another theme: the zealotry of idealists in the face of unswerving opposition. Like Jeff Spender of the fourth expedition, he sees himself working for the side of justice; unlike Spender, he takes a certain sick glee in exacting revenge. A related theme is the power of creative thinking: the ability to imagine things which aren't logical or rational can be used to great effect, especially against those who lack such an ability. Often, Bradbury has heroes whose inventiveness aids them in this manner; the same can be said here, albeit towards a more grotesque end.


Summary

With his architect Bigelow, Stendahl goes over the details of the completed Usher II, a mansion based on the Edgar Allan Poe story "The Fall of the House of Usher". Bigelow is unaware of either the author or the story, so Stendahl recounts the progress of censorship in the second half of the twentieth century, culminating in the Great Fire of 1975 when all imaginative works were deemed too dangerous and obliterated. With his personal library of forbidden works, Stendahl had moved to Mars to escape the Clean-Minded people but those people have arrived to Mars as well: Garrett of Moral Climates lands near Usher II and informs Stendahl that the building must be razed. Stendahl gives Garrett a tour of the mansion before it's destroyed; Garrett admires the creation of lifelike robotic creatures, even if he disapproves of their purpose. Stendahl has the ape strangle Garrett and, with the help of his robotics expert Pike, replaces him with a Garrett look-alike robot to return to the local office of Moral Climates.

At seven o'clock that evening, the party Stendahl planned began. Guests arrived, all of whom were involved in the censorship of the books Stendahl loved so much. He has them change into costumes and they agree, enjoying the novelty of the house and their experience there. Dressed as Death, Pikes informs Stendahl that the Garrett they killed was a robot; Stendahl takes it in stride, as this simply means one robot was replaced with another and the real Garrett, seeing nothing amiss, will be emboldened to arrive in person. He does so, bringing Dismantlers with him to destroy Usher II. Stendahl takes the real Garrett on a tour of Usher II, where guests claim to see other guests being killed - but told it was merely staged executions of robot look-alikes. Garrett accepts drinks offered to him and recognizes the executions from the work of Poe. Stendahl then leads Garrett down to the catacombs and chains him up, informing him that the robot look-alikes were the survivors and the real people the victims. He then proceeds to seal up Garrett as in "The Cask of Amontillado" and asks Garrett to recite the line "For the love of God, Montressor!" to spare his life. Garrett finally relents but Stendahl seals him up anyway, as in the story.

Midnight then strikes and the Red Death appears. Stendahl runs to a helicopter being manned by Pikes and the two escape as Usher self-destructs according to his plan. He quotes the Poe story as he makes good his escape.

Notes

The name Stendahl may be a reference to the French author Stendahl, whose novels The Red and the Black and The Charterhouse of Parma were thrillers full of bloodshed and intrigue.

The intellectually oppressive nature of life on Earth is not mentioned in any other story explicitly. Such a concern of censorship and its impact on humanity is also handled in Bradbury's best-known novel, Fahrenheit 451.


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