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An Analysis of the Historical Events Incorporated in the Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

By aaronjj10 Dec 20, 2012 3575 Words
In The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury ties in historical events and uses them to make certain points about human society. The three main topics he explores are colonization, technological advancement and censorship. These issues arose during the 1900s, throughout a significant part of Bradbury’s life. They had an extremely influential role on human society and way of life. Competition between countries and the protection of national ideals were catalysts for technological advancements and brought new types of problems to the world that had never been there before. During this time, the American government began to control and regulate more parts of life. Colonization and growth continued to eliminate cultures that were unable to protect themselves and for the first time, mankind had created a weapon that had the potential to destroy the entire civilized world. He utilizes these events to show how man strives to expand and advance, but ultimately ends up destroying culture and important aspects of life in the process. This paper will analyze three topics addressed in Bradbury’s novel. Each topic will broken down into their historical reference, incorporation in the Martian Chronicles and the point Bradbury is making about human nature.

Throughout history, more powerful and organized nations have tried to expand by taking over smaller governments. Colonization seems progressive for the superior country, but as it moves in and takes over, it tends to impose its own beliefs and lifestyles on the natives. Rather than create a mixture of different cultures, colonized nations are forced to change and abandon their own ways of life. After early colonizers came to the Americas from Britain and established the United States, they started to look westward to further expand the new country. Native Americans, however, had been living in these areas building up civilizations since the first several centuries AD. When the colonizers’ and natives’ paths finally crossed, American Indians almost immediately faced threats to their way of life. The natives to the Great Plains area heavily relied on buffalo as their main food source. As settlers started moving in to this area, they began killing the buffalo in large numbers. Additionally, farmers, miners, and ranchers took up various hunting grounds; land that was supposedly guaranteed for use by the locals. Great Plains Indians were forced to attack settlers in order to protect these lands so they could survive. Although they were acting in defense, the United States government saw this as a problem and decided something had to be done. In 1867 the Indian Peace Commission was founded, which proposed creating two large reservations for containing the Indians. These government-run reservations housed many Native Americans against their will, with no way of getting out. Eventually, they became breeding grounds for poverty, corruption and alcohol abuse. The United States government had successfully taken away the homes and way of life from an entire group of people. They put them in cities and neighborhoods that screamed depravity and now, were going to try to assimilate them into American life. The Dawes act of 1887 was intended to help Natives be absorbed into American culture as landowners and citizens in order for the situation to improve. They were given vast amounts of land depending on family size to promote farming. However, not all natives had the agricultural skills required to successfully grow crops; therefore the act did not benefit nearly as many people it was intended to. By this time, the majority of Native Americans now were living an entirely new lifestyle, forced to abandon their old way of life. Bradbury uses the history of colonization as the premise for part of the book. He also uses the story to convey the effects it has had on consumed countries. In the book, a team of men is sent from earth on a mission to Mars. Their objective is to explore and analyze the planet for colonization. Spender, an astronaut and historian, arrives with the rest of the crew in their space rocket. However, unlike the others, Spender begins to see the beauty and importance of the Martian civilization that's ruins still stand tall. He starts to make connections with historical examples of colonization that cause him to worry about the fait of the alien culture. Previous expeditions to Mars had brought chickenpox to the planet. Just like the Native Americans killed off by diseases brought by Spanish settlers, the Martians had no immunity to chickenpox and eventually all died. As a historian, Spender can recognize how vast their empire was. He wonders how they could have been destroyed by something like chickenpox, “A race builds itself for a million years, refines itself, erects cities…and then it dies. Part of it dies slowly…with dignity. But the rest... No, in the name of all that’s holy, it has to be chicken pox, a child’s disease, a disease that doesn't even kill children on earth.” The more he thinks about the Martians, the more similarities he can see with colonization back on earth. He finds himself the only one on the mission that can understand the importance of preserving their civilization. With his knowledge of what happened to Native Americans back on earth, he knows the entire extraterrestrial society will inevitably get assimilated into the earthling way of life. He talks about “All the mountains which had names. And we’ll never be able to use them without feeling uncomfortable…we’ll give them new names, but the old names are there, somewhere in time, and the mountains were shaped and seen under those names…and you know what we’ll do? We’ll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves.” Spender eventually leaves the group of men to go into the alien cities. While there, he surrounds himself with Martian texts and learns all about their ideas and lifestyles. He starts to understand that they had created a civilization that was as successful as any human could have organized. They had a greater understanding of life and their theories would be important to keep alive. He tries to explain to the captain of the mission that “They knew how to combine science and religion so the two worked side by side, neither denying the other, each enriching the other…the Martians discovered the secret of life among animals. The animal does not question life. It lives. Its very reason for living is life; it enjoys and relishes life…And the men of Mars realized that in order to survive they would have to forgo asking that one question any longer: why live? Life was its own answer.” Spender takes in all of these teachings and feels he must protect them. This civilization had so much to offer mankind he thought the only way to keep everything from getting assimilated was to kill off the rest of the crew. Bradbury uses this story to both reflect on historical events and make a point about human nature. In the book, even though Spender decides to give up his life for the Martian culture, he ends up getting shot and cannot protect the planet. The story portrays how man is so focused on expansion, power, and making new discoveries, that he is blind to the effects of his actions. When a country wants to grow, they often destroy people and culture already there. Historically this trend was seen when early colonizers forced Native Americans to assimilate into their society. Spender recognized that this was happening with Mars and tried to stop it, but in the end was unable to. The lesson to take away from Bradbury’s story is that in man’s quest for power, he tends to completely wipe out entire civilizations that could have brought important ideas and philosophies to the human race. The creation of the Atomic bomb brought another new fear to the world. Conflicts between countries in WWII not only resulted in war and violence, but they pushed each country to their limits in almost every aspect of life to show superiority over their enemies. Racing to create new technology at this rate begs the question: Will humans be able to use the technology they make responsibly? In 1939, physicist Leo Szilard had proposed that splitting a uranium atom could release unbelievable amounts of energy. When he heard that German physicists had successfully done exactly this, he immediately became worried they were working on an atomic weapon. Szilard then had Albert Einstein, an extremely renounced and well-known physicist, sign a letter to the president warning him about the possibility that the Germans were testing an atomic bomb. Roosevelt listened to their warning and quickly organized the Manhattan project. A team of scientists worked on the project until on July 16, 1945, the worlds first atomic bomb was successfully detonated in New Mexico. Now that the United States had the access and ability to use an atomic bomb, their strategy for fighting the war completely changed. Eisenhower was convinced that in order to contain communism effectively, they would have to be willing to stop any attempt at expansion before it started with threats to use atomic weaponry. This strategy was referred to as Massive Retaliation. In combination with Massive Retaliation, another new strategy was being used. Because the United States had nuclear capability, they were able to go all the way to the brink of war and count on the other side backing down. Brinksmanship was effective at first, but on the other hand, it kindled the arms race and weapons build up. With more nuclear weapons produced and more countries that gained access to such weapons, a new fear of mutually assured destruction arose. This idea was born from the destructive ability of the atomic bomb. People were worried that if one country got into a nuclear war with another, both sides would end up loosing. Both sides would use their weapons on the other, completely destroying each nation, leaving nothing behind and no winner. This fear grew larger as there were numerous close calls where nuclear weapons were a threat. National atomic stockpiles also grew and together had the potential to destroy the world 10 times over. In The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury plays on the fear of mutually assured destruction. He uses it as the basis for almost the entire book. The story is projected into the future where man has continued to push for technological advancement; it takes place at the birth of space exploration technology. This is where Bradbury ties in the history of the atomic bomb into the story. The reason space rockets were built for transportation to mars was because of the atomic threat and the fear of mutually assured destruction. They are trying to colonize mars to escape earth where an atomic war is sure to eventually devastate everything. This fear is apparent in the background of the story throughout most of the book, however it shows through more prominently in certain parts. In The Taxpayer chapter, Bradbury shows the thoughts of a lot of people in fear of a nuclear war through a character that wants to go to mars. He says how the man “wanted to go to mars on the rocket…He told them he was a taxpayer, his name was Pritchard, and he had a right to go to Mars…He shook his fists at them and told them that he wanted to get away from Earth; anybody with any sense wanted to get away from Earth. There was going to be a big atomic war on Earth in about two years, and he didn’t want to be there when it happened.” As the book continues, the fear stays the driving factor for colonization on mars. Later, when the colonization process has moved further along and many parts of mars have been taken over, Bradbury takes the fear of a nuclear war to the next level by having it happen. The atomic war finally starts in the chapter The Off Season, where a man named Sam hopes to open a hotdog stand on mars. Meanwhile, he keeps looking at Earth in the sky as he prepares for rockets to bring all of his costumers over to mars. He finishes setting up his stand when he stares up towards Earth and the atomic war breaks out. He watches as the world catches fire, “part of it seemed to come apart in a million pieces, as if a gigantic jigsaw puzzle had exploded. It burned with an unholy dripping glare for a minute, three times normal size, then dwindled.” At first, it’s hard for the people on mars to believe that they could be watching Earth fade away. However, in the next chapter - The Watchers - the remaining people on mars finally get a message telling them what happened. In Morse code the message reads, “AUSTRALIAN CONTINENT ATOMIZED IN PREMATURE EXPLOTION OF ATOMIC STOCKPILE. LOS ANGELES, LONDON BOMBED. WAR.” Now, the atomic war on Earth has officially begun and everyone’s worst fears have come true. Bradbury uses the fear of mutually assured destruction, a historical phenomena seen during WWII and The Cold War, throughout the whole book. He also is making a general point about man’s push towards technological advancement. A character in the last part of the book begins to explain how, “Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines. We got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth… That’s what we ran away from.” Bradbury is saying that people push to create amazing, new technology, but they do it too quickly. Inventions like the atomic bomb were produced at maximum speed so they could be used against other countries racing to develop similar weapons. The problem however was, no one had stopped to think if we, the human race, were even ready for such a powerful, destructive technology. Nobody thought about if we had the ability to use it responsibly; the story shows just how dangerous this can be. The Cold War brought another new concern to the United States. The Red Scare was the fear that soviet spies had infiltrated the U.S. in order to try and bring down capitalism and impose communism in America. This issue caused the government to impose censorship and limit certain rights for the purpose of protecting the country. Bradbury explores the problems with censorship and its potential to effect society and how people act. In September of 1945, Igor Gouzenko took documents out of the Soviet Embassy in Canada and brought them into the Unites States. These documents exposed plans of a massive, Soviet effort to infiltrate government agencies in both Canada and America. When people heard about this, it started a concern across the country that communist spies were inside the countries political system and aspects of American society. The Red Scare had now started and the government began to become paranoid, taking extensive precautions and conducting thorough investigations in the search of Soviet Spies. Agencies like The Loyalty Review Program were created to screen all federal employees. Other programs were also put in place like the House Un-American Activities Committee that had the responsibility of investigating any communist or fascist activities in the United States. At first, these actions were legitimate for protecting national security, however the precautions began to go too far. Eventually, certain freedoms and rights that were guaranteed to citizens were threatened. The McCarran Internal Security Act was one of these threats and showed the government overstepping its boundaries. This Act took away some people’s right to organize by requiring all communist parties or organizations to register with the government and file reports on all their actions. Additionally, members of such organizations would not be able to travel abroad and in the event of a national emergency they would be arrested and detained without any other cause. Then, when Joseph McCarthy became the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, he started accusing numerous people of being communist with very little evidence. He severely interrogated them publically in these trials, which became like witch hunts. Others then were afraid to challenge McCarthy, fearful they would then be turned to and interrogated themselves. The government’s paranoia had caused them to take all these actions. The purpose of the various measures was to prevent any communist threat to the country, however they began to affect some of the very principals the United States was founded on in the process. By watching the evolution of government censorship during the Cold War and Red Scare, Bradbury can see how simple background checks continued to escalate until the precautions became unconstitutional. He knows the real dangers of censorship and uses the book to examine this issue. The trend of increasing federal regulation is apparent in the Martian Chronicles. Bradbury takes this issue a step further and creates a story in which censorship has inevitably leaked into other aspects of life. He uses this to show the dangers that it could have if it spread to things like books. In the chapter Usher II, the main character, who had been subjected to censorship on earth, builds a house that represents many different scenes and scenarios taken from literature. His plan is to bring the federal censors to his house and teach them a lesson about the importance of fiction and writing. They had burned all the books on earth, destroying written knowledge and theories worth sharing. Ideas and stories to feed your imagination had now gone up in smoke. He begins to explain how the government had started by controlling cartoon books and eventually movies, until finally it spread across almost all forms of creative and artistic expression. It was done because people were afraid, he says that “one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.” Censorship was there to keep certain ideas away from people, but these thoughts deserved interpretation and the chance to create new ideas through other minds. This is why the main character feels he must defend the importance of literature. He invites a number of censors into the house he has built and takes them on a tour through all the different scenes set up there. In each scenario a censor is killed in the same way as in the original scene from the book, The House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe. However the others do not recognize what will happen because they had never read any of the stories. When he reaches the end where the last man left is to be killed, he stops to explain his reasoning. He asks, “do you know why I’ve done this to you?” and with no response continues, “Because you burned Mr. Poe’s books without really reading them. You took other peoples advice that they needed burning. Otherwise you’d have recognized what I was going to do to you when we came down here a moment ago. Ignorance is fatal.” The message in Bradbury’s story speaks on the potential dangers of censorship. The government used it to keep citizens from disagreeing with their ideals and to protect their views and plans. They had built and controlled a vast, powerful nation and felt it needed to be protected. However, in the process of doing so, citizens loose the chance to discover other parts of life; they learn less, don't expand their ideas and are forced into thinking in the way the government wants them to. Eventually, the cost of censorship, that was intended to protect federal power and the general way of life, could potentially destroy the very values that the country was founded on. Throughout The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury uses his knowledge of historical events to make various points about human nature. He had lived through many pinnacle eras in history when he wrote the book, including WWII and the beginning of the Cold War, which had helped shape his view on many aspects of society. The three main aspects he addresses in the book are colonization, technological advancement and government censorship. The issue of colonization is shown in the story of Spender where Bradbury directly uses the history of Native Americans to showcase the destructive nature and the greedy aspects to National expansion. He addresses the technological advancements and their effect on the world by basing the book on the issue of mutually assured destruction. The development of the atomic bomb created the potential to destroy the earth and Bradbury explores how man often might not be ready to use the technology he creates. Finally, the societal effects of government censorship and control are investigated in the chapter, The House of Usher. He uses the chapter to explain how someone in power will do anything to stay there and using strategies like censorship can have negative effects on citizens and culture. Overall, Bradbury speaks on mans tendency to push for dominance, power and control. However, in trying to gain or protect this dominance, humans use strategies without thinking through the consequences completely. As a result, cultures and ideas change while new fears arise in society.

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