Certain stories appear in some editions of The Illustrated Man, but not in others. We've found this the case for "The Fire Balloons" and the short story "The Illustrated Man". All stories we know to have been included will be discussed, but this does not mean they're all in the edition you will read.
A remote part of Wisconsin in early September.
Narrator - On a two week walking tour of Wisconsin.
The Illustrated Man - A man covered in tattoos who the narrator meets on his walk.
The narrator, who is on a walking tour.
The Illustrated Man, who shares the narrator's camp.
The Illustrated Man warns the narrator not to stare too long at his tattoos, or the stories will start to tell themselves.
The narrator is compelled to stare and the first story begins to form.
The theme of the framing sequence of The Illustrated Man is the lure of storytelling. The tattoos are a metafictive device --that is, something about the work of fiction that calls attention to its creation as a work of fiction. The idea of storytelling as having power - that is, the influence of creativity on a person's life - is common. Bradbury makes it a dangerous endeavor, however, and there is a bit of Nietzschean self-fulfillment in the tattoos. That is, one gazes into the abyss of the Illustrated Man's skin, but that abyss gazes also, exacting a price on the viewer. Thus, a related theme is the danger of the imagination.
One afternoon, on the last leg of a two week walking tour of Wisconsin, the narrator settles down when the Illustrated Man joins his camp site. He asks the narrator where he can find the job, but the narrator doesn’t know; the Illustrated Man goes on to tell him that in forty years he hasn’t had a job that lasted. Though sweating in the afternoon heat, the Illustrated Man wore a wool shirt that covered his neck and wrists. The narrator offers him some food, the Illustrated Man accepts but says he will regret making that invitation. As they talk, the Illustrated Man begins to unbutton his shirt and show his tattoos, which fascinates the narrator. He compliments the Illustrated Man, who speaks derisively of wanting to be rid of them: in sunlight, the tattoos look fine, but at night the pictures move and change, predicting the future.
He goes on to explain that in 1900, when he was twenty, the man who would be Illustrated was working at a carnival, broke his leg, and decided to get tattooed while he recovered. The artist, which he claims to be a witch from the future, used her magic needles on him one night, resulting in his appearance now. He’s been hunting her for fifty summers now, intend on killing her when he finds her.
As night approaches, the Illustrated Man explains how in three hours you could see eighteen or twenty stories acted out on his skin and that people who are around him long enough can see their own futures among the illustrations. He has never found the old woman, but still believes she was from the future, or else how would she know the stories painted on him? His shirt now off, he warns the narrator not to look at his illustrations but the narrator can’t resist. As he stares, the Illustrated Man asks if the tattoos are moving; the narrator affirms that they are. Thus, the eighteen illustrations become eighteen tales and the first story comes to life.