Free Study Guide: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

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September 2005: The Martian


A settler on Mars.

LaFarge's wife.

Dead son of LaFarge and Anna.

Takes on the role of Tom, then other dead people.

A settler who's friends with LaFarge.

A settler with a mysterious past.

Man that Nomland killed on Earth.

Joe Spaulding
Settler who lives in town.

Lavinia Spaulding
Daughter of Joe Spaulding, whose body was presumed found but badly deteriorated.

A friend of LaFarge in town.

Works in the Martian town.



LaFarge, who first welcomes then must protect the Martian shapeshifter.


The Martian shapeshifter, who assumes the shape of people's loved ones and becomes LaFarge's son Tom.


The Martian goes to town with LaFarge and his wife, but cannot take the influence of others who also wish the return of people lost in their lives.


The Martian dies and LaFarge is again bereft.


As with "The Third Expedition", this story is about the dangerous lure of memory and nostalgia, of the power that loneliness and loss can hold on people. Here, however, the Martian ability to take on the appearance of lost loved ones claims the life of the Martian, not the Earthians; the victim is the shapeshifter, not those whose wishes influence the shapeshifter. The persistent longing for what's left behind at home also foreshadows the exodus back to Earth in later stories.


LaFarge and his wife Anna have come to Mars to enjoy their old age in peace, but deeply miss their son Tom, long dead and buried on Earth. One night, a stranger arrives at their house, a small boy resembling Tom. LaFarge calls to this stranger from his front door, telling the stranger that he's leaving the door unbolted if this person wants to come in. The next morning, LaFarge finds his son Tom alive again after all these years and Anna behaving as if this is normal: he confronts Tom, who explains that he sang to the couple in their sleep to make them better accept this change. LaFarge wants an explanation of who Tom really is, but Tom begs for him not to push too hard. Tom goes off on his own and returns in the afternoon, explaining how he was almost "trapped". Soon after, neighbor Saul comes by with news of how another settler, Nomland, saw the man he killed, Gillings, alive; this drove Nomland crazy and he committed suicide.

That night, Anna insists the whole family goes to town. Tom is afraid of people, but Anna won't take no for an answer. They take their canal boat and along the way, a sleeping Tom murmurs of people, changing, and being trapped. Once in town, Tom asks to stay close to his parents, but they bump into a trio of drunks and Tom disappears outside the theater. LaFarge notices a commotion with Joe Spaulding and his wife, but must attend the movie with Anna. Later that night, Tom still has not re-appeared as the old couple waits for him at the landing where they've docked their canal boat. LaFarge goes to look for him and runs into Mike, who breaks the news that Lavinia Spaulding - who was believed dead - had been found by her parents near the theater. LaFarge goes to the Spaulding home and talks to this Lavinia, pleading for her to come home with him as Tom. The being finally relents and changes back, but he and LaFarge are chased by Joe Spaulding, worried for his newly returned daughter.

LaFarge and Tom take different routes back to the canal boat. However, running alone, Tom becomes different dead people to different passerby, all of whom give chase. The crowd descends on the now-confused being, all insisting it's who they want it to be. Finally, this alien dies from the pressure of all these wills exerting themselves on him. LaFarge and Anna go home, again faced with loss. That night, LaFarge again hears something in the night; he checks his front door, waits, but finally bolts the door when he goes to sleep.


The longing for a dead past, as embodied in the Martian's ability to become the dearly departed of the Earthians, was first seen in "The Third Expedition". It also nicely foreshadows the return exodus to Earth when atomic war threatens the settlers' home planet.

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