When we consider that the major characters of The Martian Chronicles are not individuals but whole races and planets, the importance of Bradbury's implicit question becomes clear: can mankind learn its lesson or is it doomed to self-destruction? As "- And the Moon Be Still as Bright" and "A Night Meeting" shows, Bradbury can take the very long perspective and acknowledge that all civilizations eventually die out, that the life of one race is a mere blink in the cosmic scheme of things. Further, the Earthian community he depicts in the book is indeed less than ideal: its governments are corrupted by self-interest, leading to imbalances both economically (only the United States can afford to send settlers to Mars at first) and politically (the threat of atomic war looms for a long while before it occurs).
As for the planets themselves, Mars and Earth, they each go through changes of their own in the course of the book. Both start as planets with thriving races, but the actions of Earth's people lead to the destruction of the civilizations on both races. What we wind up with at the end of the Chronicles is the death of Mars' native beings and the near-death of Earth's native beings, which is considered an act of cleansing in "The Million Year Picnic".
Does mankind learn its lesson? Not as a community, apparently - Bradbury
is either too much the cynic, the realist, or the philosopher to see human
civilization continuing on its current path unimpeded. Ultimately, then,
he finds hope in the actions of individuals: the seeds of a more humane
humanity lie in the decisions made by the Thomas family to start anew
on a new planet. But even that becomes symbolic of the greater community:
they are no longer just the Thomas family, after all, they have become
the new Martians, the start of a new civilization that purges itself of
all the faults of the previous civilization.
The book is obviously designed as a series of short stories tied together by the same theme and over-arching narrative arc: the exploration and colonization of Mars by people from Earth. The very title - using the word "chronicle" in a classic sense - makes the story's scope broadly historical rather than one concerned primarily with individual lives and achievements. This works towards Bradbury's strengths as a writer, as he uses science fiction tropes for allegories on human nature.
The main hazard of such a collection is a lack of coherence between
the different stories, that the unity among the pieces wouldn't be as
strong as the author or readers would wish. Indeed, there are certain
stories that did not satisfy Bradbury as a good fit for The Martian
Chronicles, notably "Up in the Air" and "Usher II"
- more for their lack of thematic congruity than anything else. That said,
the use of vignettes or "bridges" as transitions between different
phases of Mars' colonization by Earth serves to better tie together the
short stories, giving them coherence both in plot and in theme. Thematically,
these vignettes often take place from a community perspective: that is,
a feeling or intuition that runs across a wide swath of people, a general
opinion more than a specific point of view. (The main exception is "The
Taxpayer", though the very title generalizes the vignette's sentiment
in a similar manner.)
Bradbury takes different themes in the course of The Martian Chronicles and develops it from different angles: the perspective on loneliness in "The Silent Towns" is quite different from that in "The Long Years", which in turn has a different take on the routines of daily life from that of "There Will Come Soft Rains". In this manner, Bradbury makes full use of the fractured nature of the short story collection format, playing with different perspectives to give a fuller sense of what human nature is capable.
The main theme is that of colonization, and on the face of it Bradbury
is highly critical of the project both in his story and in its real-life
historical basis, the European conquest of the Americas. In the name of
greed and power, one race stamps out another and in doing so corrupts
a planet. Bradbury seems to consider such actions typical of human progress,
of what happens when certain aspects of culture - science especially,
but also economic concerns - outpaces other aspects, such as art and spirituality.
However, there is also a positive aspect to the human spirit, one that
emphasizes exploration as opposed to colonization: from this angle, Mars
is like other lands for Ã©migrÃ©s, providing a chance for
fresh starts and pastures new. This is especially clear in "The Million
Year Picnic", where a family escapes a war-ravaged Earth and declares
themselves Martians - much in the same way families fled war-ravaged Europe
and declared themselves Americans when settling in the United States.
Bradbury has a straightforward writing style that seeks to evoke a sense of wonder through two seemingly opposed concerns: the careful construction of mundane details and a sharp eye for vividly capturing imaginative flights of fancy. The former emphasizes the nostalgia for small town life that is one hallmark of his work, the latter emphasizes the fiery imagination that is the other hallmark. Combined, they create Bradbury's signature style, finding wonder in everyday life by using fantastic / unrealistic elements to highlight the vagaries of human nature. Often, this means the stories are built on simply constructed sentences - declarative, often distanced from the subject it describes - with dramatically timed lapses into a more florid, poetic writing style when a character comes to grips with a certain dilemma or experience. To help build on the more expansive passages of his writing, there is some tendency to call upon past works of literature to add a sense of perspective. Bradbury was ambitious and did not want to be constrained by the perceived ghetto of category fiction, and his erudite handling of his subject matter helps make his work more overtly "literary" and profound.
As stated in the plot structure analyses, the short story collection format
poses certain problems for both author and reader. One way that Bradbury
helps make the story coherent is by keeping his style of writing fairly
consistent from story to story. However, there is a clear stylistic shift
in the vignettes that connect the major stories in the collection. These
bridge pieces serve two main functions: first, they work as prose poems
that allow a more abstract understanding of the events; second, they fill
in the blanks in the over-arching plot of the Earthian colonization of
Mars. They not only reinforce the sense of progress in colonization, then,
they also add a kind of awestruck poetry to the proceedings.