No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, October 19, 2012

2012/49: The Martian Chronicles -- Ray Bradbury

The rain.
Raw, gentle, and easy, it mizzled out of the high air, a special elixir, tasting of spells and stars and air, carrying a peppery dust in it, and moving like a rare light sherry on his tongue.
Rain.
He sat up. He let the blanket fall and his blue denim shirt spot, while the rain took on more solid drops. The fire looked as though an invisible animal were dancing on it, crushing it, until it was angry smoke. The rain fell. The great black lid of sky cracked in six powdery blue chips, like a marvelous crackled glaze, and rushed down. He saw ten billion rain crystals, hesitating long enough to be photographed by the electrical display. Then darkness and water. (p. 76)

Read for the Coursera Fantasy and SF Course. I'm not sure I'd ever read The Martian Chronicles cover to cover: certainly I had a sense of jamais vu, of reading something new. Bradbury's liberal, ecologically-aware humanism is powerful now: I like to think that it was even more exceptional when the stories first appeared. These stories are very much artefacts of their time: big business, male chauvinism, racism (my edition, from 1954, contains 'Way in the Middle of the Air' rather than 'The Fire Balloons'), a brash disregard for the world(s) around them.

Bradbury's pre-colonisation Mars makes me ache. He doesn't describe a Utopia -- indeed, Mars has many of the same problems as 1950s America -- but there's an emphasis on beauty, a sense of age-old civilisations, that is much more beguiling than the Mars of Burroughs, acknowledged by Bradbury as a major influence.

Who first described Earth as a green star? I think it might have been Burroughs; or was it H G Wells? I wonder if Earth ever was green, instead of blue, as seen from another planet ...

Here's my essay -- actually a transformative work -- for Coursera. (Achieved my lowest grade to date for this! One peer reviewer didn't seem to get it at all, despite my footnote; another told me it was 'disrespectful' to a fine writer; the third said that without the footnote they'd have thought I got drunk and tried to paraphrase SparkNotes ...You decide.)

Rae Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is a visionary subversion of gender roles. In post-war American society, a woman's place was in the home, but Bradbury's Mars presents female characters with opportunities to take control.

In 'Ylla', the protagonist is increasingly perturbed by her husband's dreams, in which he hunts and kills black-haired, blue-eyed strangers. Ylla tricks Yll into remaining at home while she goes to welcome the strangers -- the First Expedition -- and warns them of the hostile reception they will face from more conservative Martians.

In 'The Martian', Anna and LaFarge encounter a shape-shifting Martian who assumes the appearance of their dead son. LaFarge is overjoyed, but Anna quickly realises that 'Tom' is an imposter. Rather than betraying the Martian's identity (or lack of it) she attempts to make him feel loved and welcomed, but LaFarge's possessiveness leads to the Martian's death.

Genevieve Selsor believes she is the last human on Mars, until she is telephoned by Walter Gripp. When they meet, however, Gen finds Gripp shallow and superficial. In a satirical inversion of romantic tropes, Gen realises that the best way to rid herself of Gripp is to demand commitment. The wedding-dress she finds in a deserted shop proves an effective deterrent, and Gripp flees, leaving Gen to live as she pleases.

Genevieve rejects the role of wife and mother: in 'The Million-Year Picnic' Alice Thomas considers the comparable dilemma faced by her friend Betty Edwards. Should Betty bring her daughters to Mars to become the wives of Alice's sons, thus preventing the human race from extinction? At the end of the story we are still unsure of Betty's decision, but it is clear that if the girls do arrive, Alice and Betty will be raising them with sound feminist ideals.

Bradbury's women are products of the patriarchal society in which the author was writing, yet they question and transcend the stereotypes of post-war America. The women in the Chronicles are empowered: they take action, and change the course of Martian history.

FOOTNOTE IN COURSERA ESSAY CITATIONS SECTION: (Just for clarification: this is a transformative work. I am aware that Ray Bradbury was not a woman and did not spell his first name 'Rae'; furthermore, the stories I mention by name do not have the plots and themes discussed above.)

1 comment:

  1. Your essay made me smile. This is a very creative essay , I would have graded you a 6. Thanks for an enriching read.

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