The Martian Chronicles: Good, but aged

This week in Coursera we read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Here is my essay on it for the week.

By taking contemporary trends and projecting them into the future, The Martian Chronicles suffer from comparison with the actual historical record. Bradbury’s stories seem dated, particularly those that use pop culture references, social mores, or nostalgia that are inappropriate for the timeframe in which the stories are set.

The Martian Chronicles are set in the early 2000s, and we know that none of what Bradbury suggests has actually transpired. We have not sent people to Mars and we do not have nuclear war as an imminent threat, since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The two primary conceits do not speak to audiences today with the same power they would have had when they were written.

“The Third Expedition” is a clear example of Bradbury unsuccessfully handling pop culture references. In the year 2000, the astronauts (presumably between 20 and 40 years old) would not be nostalgic for the 1920s era. While small Midwestern towns are more likely to retain some older references, 80 years is too long of a timeframe to make this likely.

“Way in the Middle of the Air” reflects dated social mores. While racism still exists, the attitudes expressed would be shocking today compared to the 1950s. The references to lynching in particular date the work considerably. Bradbury did not anticipate much change in racial attitudes.

The notion that all the emigrants would return to earth for a war even seems dated for the time in which the story was written. Americans did not en mass return to their countries of origin during the world wars. This appears to be an idea Bradbury supports, but not society as a whole.

While certain stories are more dated than others, the overall arc of humanity moving under threat of nuclear war no longer speaks with the same power as when it was written. We can still appreciate the quality of the writing, but miss much of what would have spoken to his contemporaries.


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