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Plot Summary of "The Martian Chronicles"

written by: Peter Boysen • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/7/2012

What happens in 'The Martian Chronicles'? Well, you should already know if you read the book, but this summary will review the important events in Ray Bradbury's classic story about Earthlings on Mars.

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    The Beginnings

    Ray Bradbury had The Martian Chronicles published in 1949, four years after the end of World War II, when tensions were heating up between the United States and the Soviet Union, and prospects of a nuclear war seemed highly likely. Families in those days had the additional chore of nuclear bomb drills, and many had put bomb shelters in their yards or homes.

    Against the background of this cultural fear, the story opens with the people of Earth preparing for war in 1999. Because the war was expected to destroy the planet, explorers went to Mars to find a new place for human civilization to thrive.

    Meanwhile, the Martians were living at peace in their homes, a race more civilized, rational and intelligent than their counterparts on the earth. Like Earthlings, Martians also enjoyed music, literature and nature.

    Because the Martians have telepathic abilities, they know that the Earthlings are coming well before they arrive. The first signs are new thoughts in a different language, and new songs coming through their minds.

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    Early Explorations

    Ylla K is a Martian who has dreams about a man white dark hair, blue eyes and white skin, and she finds this man attractive. Her husband is jealous, and when the rocket arrives, and this man steps out of the rocket, her husband kills him -- and his entire exploration party. That ends the first exploration.

    Earth had already sent a second rocket with other explorers, though. These new explorers receive an initial "welcome" and are taken to a banquet hall, but then they find themselves in an asylum, confined with Martians who also think they are "astronauts." After a while, the members of the second exploration are all put to death.

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    Further Attempts to Colonize Mars

    Earth is getting closer and closer to worldwide conflict when the third exploration takes off. This rocket has a crew of 17, including Captain John Black. Oddly, when this rocket lands, the members find relatives that had passed away on Earth waiting for them. Shocked by this, the men are easily led to their relatives' "homes."

    However, the Martians had used their telepathic powers to learn about these lost people in the minds of the explorers, and had transformed themselves into replicas of those people, to lure the Earthlings to their doom. Indeed, that first night, all of the crew members are murdered.

    The fourth expedition is the turning point. The explorers find that the Martian population has been just about wiped out by chicken pox, which had traveled with one of the first three crews. The conflict with this group comes from within, as the archeologist Spendor is troubled by the idea of Earthlings coming to Mars and taking advantage of the planet and the population. However, Spendor is killed by Captain Wilder, and the colonization begins.

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    Colonization

    The Martian Chronicles takes a major turn when the colonists begin to arrive on Mars. The people from Earth behave much the same on their new planet, ruining the beauty of the former Martian civilization and pillaging the resources, as Spendor had predicted. When African-Americans start to come to Mars to escape the racism they suffered on Earth, the conflicts that had raged on Earth appear on the Red Planet as well.

    War finally breaks out in earnest on Earth in 2005, and most of the colonists go back home. Those few who stay live isolated lives and do not know that most of the Earth's population died in the war, and that the Earth's cities have been destroyed.

    War continues for more than two decades on Earth, and at the end of the novel, a family arrives -- William Thomas and his family. The family gradually transforms into the new Martians -- as they see when they see themselves in a watery reflection.