Ray Bradbury’s Vision of Colonization
in The Martian Chronicles
© Julia Weinmann
Centuries ago, the colonization of the New World represented one of the major aims of European nations and has been praised or criticized ever since. In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury repeats the past by depicting the conquest and colonization of another planet rather than another continent. Settling on Mars is the only escape left for the population on Earth, which has become a decaying planet facing major environmental, social and political problems. As people have destroyed their former basis for living, they try to find a new one on the foreign planet Mars. History repeats itself during the colonization of Mars, as native populations are decimated and strangeness is familiarized by cultivating the foreign land in order to suit the colonizers’ desires. In his novel, Bradbury questions and criticizes the concept of colonization, thereby drawing on Mars as a symbol of America after its discovery by Columbus, and its inescapable ‘cultivation’ through the Pilgrims. However cruel the history of colonization might be, it is also regarded inevitable for the rest of the world as increasing populations long for more territories and resources. The criticism in the novel primarily centers on how this expansion takes place, namely in a destructive and exploitative way. Bradbury reveals the tensions between inhabitants of Earth and those of Mars, thus questioning the Earthmen’s reckless behavior towards native Martians which serve as a symbol for Native Americans. Moreover, the author criticizes mankind’s irresponsible exploitation of the resources they have been given on Earth, and their ability to destroy nature without even realizing or considering the terrible outcome.
The issues to be discussed in the following are those of imperialism, environmental destruction and racism, all being rooted in the mythology of the American westward expansion and the Frontier spirit. By large, Bradbury’s novel also reflects the anxieties of the early 1950s, namely the fear of a nuclear war and the emergence of the Civil Rights movement.
A significant basis for the interpretation of The Martian Chronicles is the approach to the story as an allegory for man’s immoral blindness in the light of the ‘manifest destiny’ and the frontier spirit. The belief in a divine calling addressed to a chosen people was already taken as a motivation and justification for the colonization of the New World, regardless of the fact that countless Native Americans were deprived of their land or killed. Colonizers unstoppably pushed the frontier to the west, thus civilizing the former unknown and ‘savage’ environment. During this period, the frontier spirit was an expression of a desire for civilization, individualism and the fulfillment of the ‘American Dream’. Nowadays a new beginning on a completely foreign planet can be seen as an enlargement of the idea of colonization, and further increases the chance to improve one’s social life and economic standing. But whereas on the one hand colonization can be seen as a somehow romantic and innovative adventure, it on the other hand brings about the destruction of an already existing environment. Bradbury’s intention of turning the colonization of Mars into a symbol of the colonization of America becomes obvious when he explains the motives for the immigration to Mars, which brought about waves of Earthmen that were ready to start anew.
“They came because they were afraid or unafraid, because they were happy or unhappy, because they felt like Pilgrims or did not feel like Pilgrims. There was a reason for each man. [...] They were coming to find something, to dig up something or bury something or leave something alone. They were coming with small dreams or none at all.” (p.73)
Bradbury’s mentioning of the Pilgrims clearly compares the colonizers of Mars to those of America; everyone had their reasons for emigration, no matter if it presented the escape from the old world or the search of a new one. In addition to this reference to the Pilgrims, an association with Native Americans is provoked when Spender asks Cheroke how he would feel if he were a Martian and people came to his land to tear it up. Cheroke’s following answer puts the reader on the side of the Natives and compares the colonizers’ reckless treatment of Martians to their cruel behavior towards Native Americans.
“I’ve got some Cherokee blood in me. My grandfather told me lots of things about Oklahoma Territory. If there’s a Martian around, I’m all for him.” (p.59)
Similar to events in the past, native inhabitants are again expelled from their home by colonizers who take their primacy and superiority for granted.
Throughout The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury provokes the reader’s sympathy for the Native people both by depicting the colonizers’ ruthless behavior and by hinting at the Martians’ refined civilization. In the very beginning of the novel, the reader is introduced to the strangeness and uniqueness of the Martian landscape, which is untouched by mankind but still highly civilized. This contradicts the human tendency to regard everything that is not cultivated by their own kind as wild and hostile; an assumption which can again be applied to the colonization of America. Native Americans were seen as an inferior, savage people primarily because their customs and traditions differed from the colonizers’ experience. It was to a large extent the fear of the unknown and the inability to culture-crossing communication that provoked hatred among the colonizers and made them recklessly kill the Natives.