One minute it was Ohio winter…. And then a long wave of warmth crossed the small town…. Rocket summer…. The rocket lay on the launching field, blowing out pink clouds of fire and oven heat. The rocket stood in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts.—“Rocket Summer,” p. 1>The opening passage of The Martian Chronicles captures the sudden transformation of humanity’s life—as sudden as an abrupt transition from cold and dead winter to warm and life-filled summer—heralded by the dawn of the Space Age. The beginning of humanity’s ascent to the stars bespeaks great potential and promise (unfortunately, to be belied by most of the book’s recounting of humanity’s failed attempts to settle Mars on humanity’s, rather than on Mars’, own terms).
Well, what would the best weapon be that a Martian could use against Earth Men with atomic weapons? The answer was interesting. Telepathy, hypnosis, memory, and imagination.—“The Third Expedition,” p. 46>Captain Black recognizes, too late, the potency of the Martians’ strategy to defend themselves, their civilization, and their world against the encroaching Earthmen. More broadly, these lines point to the problem human beings will encounter again and again as they attempt to make Mars their home: they will succumb to the temptation to choose illusion over reality, the past over the present and future.“Isn’t it enough they’ve ruined one planet, without ruining another; do they have to foul someone else’s manger?”—“And the Moon Still Be As Bright,” p. 65>Spender’s bitter question reflects his belief that humanity is not ready to inherit Mars. He wants humanity to leave Mars alone, for he is convinced that the human race cannot help but bring all of its vices with it as it settles the red planet. (Readers must judge the degree to which the events that unfold in the Chronicles bear Spender’s belief out!)
“They looked pretty humble and frightened. Looking at all this, we know we’re not so hot; we’re kids in rompers, shouting with our play rockets and atoms, loud and alive. But one day Earth will be as Mars is today. This will sober us. It’s an object lesson in civilizations. We’ll learn from Mars.”—“And the Moon Still Be As Bright,” pp. 54-55>These lines are Captain Wilder’s more hopeful rejoinder to Spender’s attitude. Captain Wilder thinks humanity does have the potential not only to change Mars but also to be changed by it for the better. His words about living Earth one day becoming like dead Mars will prove prescient by the book’s close.
“His ear to the ground, he could hear the feet of the years ahead moving at a distance, and he imagined the seeds he had placed today sprouting up with green and taking hold on the sky, pushing out branch after branch, until Mars was an afternoon forest, Mars was a shining orchard.”
“The Green Morning,” p. 74>Benjamin Driscoll has a vision of a positive human future on Mars—one of the few original settlers who does. Thanks to Driscoll, the human experience on Mars enjoys a new beginning—although it proves short-lived.
“We’ve got to forget Earth and how things were. We’ve got to look at what we’re in here, and how different it is… I came to Mars to retire and I wanted to retire in a place where everything is different.”—“Night Meeting,” p. 79> Unlike most human settlers, Pop is open to the new experience that is Mars. It is this openness, or lack of it, that determines the success or, usually, the failure of human attempts to colonize the planet.
They came to the strange blue lands and put their names upon the lands…. all the names of people and the things that the people did…. [In] places where the rocket men had set down their fiery caldrons to burn the land, the names were left like cinders, and of course there was a Spender Hill and a Nathaniel York town…—“The Naming of Names,” p. 102>This passage describes the violence—metaphorical, but real nonetheless—perpetrated against Mars by human settlers in renaming the places and features of the planet, just as Spender (who would by no means want his name on a Martian hill) feared. It is behavior that shows how incapable humanity is of leaving the past behind and fully embracing its future on Mars.
“Well, the old got to give way to the new.”—“The Off Season,” p. 134>Sam Parkhill speaks these arrogant words to one of the last remaining Martians, referring to his own avaricious plans to operate a hot dog stand on Mars. His words, however, carry ironic force, because they show his lack of understanding that humans must leave behind all of their past on Earth in order to enjoy a new future on Mars.
“The fire leaped up… And then all the papers were gone… All the laws and beliefs of Earth were burnt into small hot ashes which would soon be carried off in a wind.—“The Million-Year Picnic,” p. 180>This descriptive passage marks the moment at which, at last, humanity, as represented by the Thomas family, makes a clean break with old Earth in order to find a new beginning, a new life, on Mars.
The Martians were there—in the canal—reflected in the water. Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad. The Martians stared back at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water…—“The Million-Year Picnic,” p. 181>The book’s final lines offer a hopeful conclusion to the sprawling tale of humanity’s movement to Mars. The human Thomas family, in its escape to Mars and its commitment to live in harmony with their new home, become adopted but nonetheless true “Martians,” representing the positive possibility that humanity, in them and their descendants, will at last achieve a new beginning.