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Free Study Guide: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

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THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES: FREE BOOK SUMMARY

November 2005: The Off Season

CHARACTERS

Sam Parkhill
A former member of the fourth expedition, now setting up a hot dog stand on Mars.

Elma Parkhill
Sam's wife.

Unnamed Martians
Wish to contact Sam to bring him news.

Leader
Gives Parkhill the deeds to half of Mars.



CONFLICT

Protagonist

Sam Parkhill, who wishes to take advantage of the coming wave of settlers but must deal with the imagined threat of Martians.

Antagonist

The Martians, who wish to bring a message to Parkhill.

Climax

After killing several of their number, Parkhill is given the deeds to half of Mars and warned of a special event that night.

Outcome

The Great War explodes on Earth, dashing Parkhill's dreams of his hot dog stand.


THEMES

The very notion of a hot dog stand in the middle of Mars emphasizes the absurdity and danger inherent in the colonization and despoliation of Mars. Sam's rush to violence is an individual version of the aggression taking place on Earth on a worldwide scale. If anything, Parkhill embodies the worst kinds of hubris in mankind: a sense of entitlement to personal advancement, an almost instinctual need to protect his own interests at the cost of others, and a lack of vision about the consequences of his actions. It is fitting, then, that he be one of the witnesses of the downfall of his civilization.


Summary

Sam Parkhill admires his new business, a hot dog stand taking advantage of the hundred thousand Mexican and Chinese workers arriving soon and making use of the highway route on which his stand is situated. Elma tells him of a visitor arriving, apparently not for the first time: a masked Martian who asks a panicked Sam if he's listened to the radio. Sam informs him that his radio is busted and when the Martian pulls out a bronze tube, Sam shoots and kills in panic. Elma tells Sam the Martian wasn't wielding a weapon but bringing a message. It's too late, though, as a dozen Martian sand ships now approach the hot dog stand.

Sam gets in his own auction-bought Martian sand ship to escape, forcing Elma to come with him. Another Martian appears on the Parkhill ship, insisting they come in peace, but Sam shoots her as well. Sam does more damage to the ships as they give chase, but they finally catch up and he surrenders. Instead of vengeance, however, he is told to return to his hot dog stand. Once there, he is visited by the Leader of the Martians, who gives Sam a deed to half of Mars as something important is happening that night. Sam anticipates great riches for himself and his hot dog stand, but the event he awaits is the Earth exploding before his eyes. Elma wryly informs him that there will be no new settlers and their hot dog stand will face a very long off-season now.

Notes

This is the only time we are told of non-American settlers arriving to Mars, specifically from China and Mexico. Whether or not they are meant to be a new labor class for the mines or settlers with the same standing as the earlier American settlers is unclear. The reasoning for the Martians' behavior is unusual, appearing inscrutable if not a practical joke of cosmic proportions. In this case, the allegory is certainly more important than the logic of the story.


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