The Martian Chronicles
"The Old Ones"; "The Martian"; "The Luggage Store"; "The Off Season"; "The Watchers"
In August of 2005, Mars is finally flooded with retirees. By September, LaFarge and his wife Anna have settled in, but they still miss their deceased son, Tom. One night, Tom shows up on their porch. LaFarge has trouble believing that he is real, but Anna does not. She insists that they go into town. Tom is terrified to do so, and when the three arrive, Tom immediately disappears. A family with a lost daughter caught sight of him, and he morphed into their lost daughter. LaFarge goes to look for him, and soon many people are chasing the Martian through town, seeing in him whoever is most on their minds. A policeman sees a criminal. Eventually, the former Tom falls to the ground, melts, and dies, over-strained.
It is November of 2005, and news comes from Earth that atomic war is imminent. A priest and a luggage salesman are discussing how unreal the war seems, and how there may soon be a run on luggage. They speculate that people have not been away from Earth long enough not to go back if here is a large war. Meanwhile, Sam Parkhill has opened a hot dog stand. He is extremely proud of it and thinks himself very clever. His wife Elma seems less impressed. When a Martian approaches him, he is startled and shoots the Martian down. Soon, his wife spots a fleet of Martian sand ships coming over the dried sea-bed, and Sam tries to escape in his own stolen sand ship. A chase ensues, in which Sam takes pot shots at abandoned Martian cities and destroys one of the other ships, but finally he has to surrender, only to learn that the Martians merely wanted to talk to him. They hand over the Martian deeds to half the land on Mars and tell Sam that "tonight is the night." They leave. He is elated, until, later that night, he sees Earth burst into flame.
All over Mars, people watch Earth flame in the sky. They worry about people on Earth with whom they have been lax in communicating. A "light-radio" message comes from Earth, explaining that Australia has been destroyed due to the accidental detonation of an atomic stockpile, and that London and Los Angeles have been bombed. They are asked to return home. Soon, the luggage salesman is sold out.
It is clever of Bradbury to include the retired in his story of settlers. Old people are looking for a restful, escapist place, and going to Mars is almost like going halfway to heaven. It represents another class of people that is interested in finding something new on Mars, but which is incapable of doing anything more than recreating the old once it arrives. This is symbolized in the way different people see different things in the Martians. They are unable to consider the Martian itself, desperately wanting the Martian to be a certain someone from their past, and so they all chase him until he dies.
Sam Parkhill epitomizes the destruction a careless American can cause in an atmosphere of fragile antiquity. He talks big, but, when the Martians come, he is scared--so scared that he shoots them before they can speak to him. Just as Mars is about to be evacuated, Bradbury's cautionary tale about reckless pioneers reaches a high point. At the same time, it is a fantastic story. A chrome hot dog stand lies in the middle of a blue sand desert, approached by ships that sail on the sand. Bradbury creates a wonderful juxtaposition of the elegant, ancient boats and the undoubtedly ugly hot dog stand. It is no wonder that he was accused of being anti-science.
The notion that the settlers on Mars would return to Earth in order to fight in an atomic war seems odd, but it makes perfect sense within Bradbury's novel. He feels that settlers who merely try to recreate America are going about settling all wrong. It is natural that, because they have not opened their eyes to the new landscape, they cannot forget the old landscape, Earth. One wonders whether the old man at the filling station felt compelled to return. Also, it should be remembered that Bradbury was writing before Vietnam, so the evacuation back to America to help with the war may have seemed natural to his contemporary audience.
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