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Free Study Guide: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

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THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES: LITERATURE NOTES

April 2026: The Long Years

CHARACTERS

Hathaway
One of the last inhabitants on Mars.

Wilder
Former captain of the fourth expedition to Mars, current captain of an expedition to the outer planets.

Walter Gripp
Still alive and happily alone.

Alice Hathaway
Android made to resemble Hathaway's dead wife.

Marguerite Hathaway
Android made to resemble Hathaway's dead daughter.

Susan Hathaway
Android made to resemble Hathaway's dead daughter.

John Hathaway
Android made to resemble Hathaway's dead son.

Williamson
Crewman of Wilder's outer planets expedition.



CONFLICT

Protagonist

Hathaway, who has waited with his family for a rocket to return to Earth.

Antagonist

Wilder, who detects something wrong with Hathaway's too-young family.

Climax

Wilder finds out the family are robot duplicates, and Hathaway finally dies.

Outcome

The robots are left on Mars to continue their routine.


THEMES

In this tragic tale, we find a contrast to Walter Gripp's experience with loneliness in the previous story: Hathaway can only endure the twenty years on Mars by creating a replica of his lost family and enter the same routine with them that he had with his real loved ones. Another theme of this story is the line between reality and simulation: at what point does the imitation of something become that thing, when do the differences blur and become moot? The robots are left to continue their lives, and yet what meaning do such actions have?


Summary

Twenty years after the Great War on Earth, Mars is a dead planet except for Hathaway and his family. He has no idea what’s happening on Earth, as contact had been cut off. He tells his wife he’ll take a walk and visits four graves. When he returns, his wife spots a rocket in the night sky; to catch the rocket’s attention, he sets fire to New New York. He then has wine with his family to celebrate, but he’s the only one to actually drink - the others have the fluids run down their chins. Hathaway prepares for the arrival of the rocket’s crew and is surprised to recognize the captain when they do land: Wilder, his captain from the fourth expedition.

Wilder and his current expedition had been to Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune, assigned the outer planets so that he wouldn’t interfere with colonial policy on Mars. Wilder informs Hathaway of circling the planet twice and finding only one other living being, Walter Gripp, quite happy staying where he was; there were no signs of Martians. Hathaway fills Wilder in on two others from the fourth expedition: he visits Spender’s tomb once a year, and Parkhill left a week after setting up a hot dog stand. Hathaway suddenly takes ill, and the expedition doctor gives him some medicine; Hathaway dismisses this as mere excitement at this turn of events. At his home, Hathaway introduces his wife and three children. When asked by Wilder, son John says he’s 23 - and looks that age - but a crewman, Williams, went to school with John Hathaway and knows he should be at least 42. Similarly, Wilder had met Hathaway’s family before and sees they hadn’t aged in the past twenty years. He sends Williamson on an errand; when he returns, it’s to confirm the presence of a graveyard and that Hathaway’s real family died in July 2007 of an unknown virus. As the festive meal ends, however, Hathaway collapses again and dies.

Wilder speaks to Alice Hathaway - or rather the robot made to look like her, just as robots were made to look like Hathaway’s children as well. She was instructed not to feel sad at this loss. It’s decided that the four robots will be left behind when the rocket returns to Earth, but Wilder does not have them turned off. Williamson is skeptical and his captain gives him a gun to finish them off; he returns, unable to "kill" them because they seemed too lifelike. The rocket leaves for earth soon enough, and robot family continues on with their imitation of a happy life.

Notes

In an almost offhand manner, the apparent death of all native Martians - even the ones that chased after Sam Parkhill in "The Off Season" - is noted by Wilder. This paves the way for the New Martians of "The Million Year Picnic" and eliminates the fear of the first wave of settlement: that is, the infringement of colonizers on the territories and culture of the native people. Without any native people, the Thomas family may take on the mantle of Martian culture without any moral compromise.


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