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Themes, Symbols and Motifs from "The Martian Chronicles"

written by: Peter Boysen • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/5/2012

This article focuses on "The Martian Chronicles" and its use of symbols, themes and motifs. The intended audience is students in middle school who are encountering the book as well as teachers looking for additional material to help with instruction.

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    Themes in the Book

    The Martian Chronicles only makes a handful of rhetorical arguments, but it does so quite emphatically. Perhaps the dominant theme involves the way that we as humans view our surroundings as our property, no matter what effect that belief has on the other species in our surroundings. We feel it is our right to bring our values and practices into new situations, with little consideration on how those ideas will bring long-term destruction.

    In the book, the colonists are coming from Earth to Mars to flee atomic war. They land on the planet with a rocket that spews all sorts of fumes into the environment; they bring diseases that ultimately wipe out the Martians, much like the diseases that came from Europe with the colonists and wiped out many of the Native Americans. Their children run through the beautiful Martian architecture, gleefully smashing stunning examples of fine art.

    The Earthlings are by no means the only guilty parties. The Martians try several different strategies to wipe out the Earthlings without first finding out their reasons for colonizing. However, the idea that, particularly in the West, we have developed a consumer society that either willfully or blindly destroys its surroundings and then moves on to fresh land to ravage, is one that appears through every mission's arrival on the Red Planet.

    There are several minor themes at work. One is the effect that nostalgia can have on people (note the crew lured to its death by the ghostly appearance of dead relatives, who are really Martians trying to kill the invaders). Another is the pride that takes human achievement and makes it a menace -- the pride we take in the things we accomplish makes us demand recognition; several instances of this occur during the arrival of different crews.

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    Symbols & Motifs

    A look at The Martian Chronicle and its symbols and motifs must include the following elements.

    The Red Planet is a symbol throughout the story. It takes the place of the Old West and the New World in the list of frontiers that humans have tamed. The color makes it forbidding; the strange peril that the Martians do and do not mean to inflict on their visitors creates a challenge for the incoming Earthlings.

    The rockets represent another symbol. They show the powerful effects that we as humans have on our surroundings, particularly as technology advances and more and more power is at our disposal.

    As far as motifs go, the various elements of the Martian culture appear throughout the chapters as a recurring image. The interaction of the Martian family members with each other, the differences between Martian architecture and what the Earthlings were used to, and even the change of the Earthling family into Martians are all signs that taking over the Red Planet will be more menacing than the colonist think it will be. This serves to emphasize the fact that imposing our practices and ideas on a fresh environment always has more complications than we would have guessed.