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The Martian Chronicles: “Usher II” by Ray Bradbury, Summary and Analysis

Usher II, Hungarian Graphic Novel

Below is a synopsis and analysis of “Usher II” from The Martian Chronicles for my class and, perhaps more accurately, for myself. I hope you enjoy!

“Usher II (2004-2005)” was originally published as “Carnival of Madness” in 1950 by Standard Magazines. It works as Bradbury’s love letter to Poe and feels like a prequel or alternate timeline for Fahrenheit 451 (1953) as it deals with censorship. It is similar to the 1949 short story “The Exiles” which was reprinted in The Illustrated Man (1951). “The Exiles” deals with authors whose spirits are on Mars, fearfully awaiting the burning of the final copies of their books. “Usher II” like “The Naming of Names” covers a period of time rather than a specific month, which is unusual because it seems to take place over the span of 1-2 days rather than 1-2 years. This chapter is also foreshadowed in the previous chapter, “The Naming of Names.”

Characters

William Stendahl: Millionaire and lover of fiction who concocts the elaborate plan for Usher II (which he calls “The House of Usher,” I am calling it “Usher II” for the sake of clarity). Importantly, he is the only character with a first name. Stendahl is characterized by intense anger and, although not likable, is the protagonist.

Mr. Bigelow: The architect who designed Usher II without knowing or caring what it is. He represents the complacent, unquestioning attitude of people, the “common man” in this story.

Mr. Garrett: Investigator of Moral Climates is his official title, he is in charge of enforcing the laws that regulate fiction and imagination. Like many characters in the story he has a robot double. Lack of imagination is his downfall.

Pikes: Stendahl’s right-hand man, an actor who is not allowed to act, and who is characterized by extreme bitterness. Pikes assists Stendahl in engineering the events in “Usher II.”

The Party Guests: Numbered around three dozen, some of which have names (so the narration flows well). They are portrayed essentially as sheep (like Bigelow) who Stendahl had befriended in the time leading up to the “party.” They, too, represent “the masses.”

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The Martian Chronicles: “The Naming of Names” by Ray Bradbury, Summary and Analysis

The Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburyBelow is a synopsis and analysis of “The Naming of Names” from Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles for my class and, perhaps more accurately, for myself. I use these when I teach the novel, so I hope that someone else finds it useful and I hope you enjoy!

“The Naming of Names: 2004-2005” is a continuity chapter in The Martian Chronicles and was published with the first edition of the collection. Per usual (for a continuity chapter) it ends with an ellipsis, but it is the only chapter that covers a chunk of time rather than a specific date/month. In general the mini chapter discusses the re-naming of the towns and landmarks on Mars. It also lets the reader know that now humans are aware of what happened to the early expeditions: “Here was the place where Martians killed the first Earth men […] And here where the Second Expedition was destroyed.” The narrator also states that the place where “Martians” (though we know it was Yll) killed the First Expedition is called “Red Town and had to do with blood.” Bradbury’s use of color imagery is so detailed and subtle in this collection that this blatant association should be noted as important. The narrator also states “of course there was a Spender Hill and a Nathaniel York Town,” which implies that Spender (of the pivotal “- and the Moon be Still as Bright” story/chapter) is remembered as a hero and not as a villain.

In the second paragraph the narrator implies that the Martian names were known (or at least knowable), but that the Earth “rockets struck at the names like hammers, breaking away the marble into shale,” and changing them to “IRON TOWN, STEEL TOWN, ALUMINUM CITY,” and others. The use of all caps is unusual and metal imagery has become important in the text at this point so it is worth noting. After the towns, graveyards follow, and once “loneliness” is gone (both a reference to Spender being called “The Lonely One” and the chapter “The Settlers” wherein the narrator states “But the first Lonely Ones had to stand by themselves”) tourists and bureaucrats begin to arrive, which the narrator calls “sophisticates.” This is an usual word and it will be seen again in the text in “The Old Ones.”

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The Martian Chronicles: “Ylla” by Ray Bradbury and The Problem That Has No Name

The Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburyLast night I was digging through my books, searching fruitlessly for some editions that I have either lost or given away, when I stumbled upon my copy of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. I set it out to read later, but I immediately pushed my homework aside and polished off the first few chapters before bed. It’s a collection of short stories and one of the few science fiction books that I own, but I remember it being a favorite of mine growing up, so I was excited to see how it held up against the decades.

Most striking of the first few chapters was “Ylla,” about a Martian woman in a comfortable (though not precisely happy) marriage of 20 years. Many of the stories in The Martian Chronicles were published separately before being collected together, which is why I’m okay with talking about it outside of the whole work (I would never, for example, review just one chapter in a novel). “Ylla” was first published in 1950 and, reading it now, I immediately thought of Betty Friedan and “the problem that has no name.”

Before we get to that, however, let’s start with the plot. With the approach of the Earth men the Martian’s telepathy begins to pick up on their presence before they know what is happening. Ylla begins to dream of what is later called the “first expedition” and specifically of its captain, Nathaniel York. She seeks out these dreams more often, even singing in English without knowing what language she’s speaking. Interested at first, her husband (Yll) eventually becomes jealous and manipulative.

Ylla’s telepathic dreams solidify into prophetic visions; she dreams of the time and place of Nathaniel’s arrival, his appearance, his ship, that they will fall in love, and that she will go with him to Earth. Waking up from the most detailed dream the morning of Nathaniel’s arrival, Ylla’s eyes open to her husband standing over her. He forbids her to leave the house, which pains her because of her psychic pull to go to the spot of the ship’s landing, which she presents under the guise of visiting a friend. She obeys her husband’s command even after he takes a grotesque Martian weapon out “hunting” to the ship’s arrival site.

Ylla attempts to distract herself around the house, but she has become psychically tied to the ships arrival, and screams as two shots ring out in the distance. Returning home her husband pretends to know nothing, speaking vaguely about “hunting,” and dismissing her questions. Ylla tries to remember her dream and the strange song, but it is evaporating from her memory; she wants to remember, but cannot. The story closes with Ylla collapsing into tears, shaking as she weeps violently, saying that she does not know why she is so upset.

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