January 03, 2010

Colonization in The Martian Chronicles

I haven't read Ray Bradbury's masterpiece since childhood. Its "soft" approach to science fiction wasn't my cup of tea--at least not then. But several postings have noted its Native themes:

The Martian ChroniclesThe Martian Chronicles is a 1950 science fiction short story collection by Ray Bradbury that chronicles the colonization of Mars by humans fleeing from a troubled and eventually atomically devastated Earth, and the conflict between aboriginal Martians and the new colonists.And:In the crucial story, "—And the Moon be Still as Bright," it is revealed by the fourth exploratory expedition that the Martians have all but perished in a plague caused by germs brought by one of the previous expeditions.

—And the Moon Be Still as Bright (June 2001/2032)

The next chapter opens with the men of the Fourth Expedition gathering firewood against the cold Martian evening. The scientists have found that all of the Martians have died of chickenpox (brought by one of the first three expeditions)—analogous to the devastation of Native American populations by smallpox.
Native America & Speculative Fiction:  Interview with Amy H. SturgisAs science fiction was coming into its own, Native America was being dismantled in a systematic, military fashion. Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles (1950) reflects on those events, using Mars as a metaphor for North America. Some of the characters in the novel consciously identify what happened to the Martians with the de-population of Native America, and these characters begin to understand what is being lost only after it is too late for anything to be done.The Martian Chronicles / Ray BradburyOne of the themes discussed, for example, is that of colonialization. A comparison of the Marians with native American Indians is almost unavoidable. In fact, it is not only hinted, but referenced directly:

(From the book) “[...] Let me ask you a question. How would you feel if you were a Martian and people came to your land and started tearing it up?”

“I know exactly how I'd feel,” Said Cheroke. “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.”

And it's rather obvious that Bradbury considers it to be wrong.

(From the book) “Ask me, then, if I believe in the spirit of the things as they were used, and I'll say yes. They're all here. All the things which had uses. All the mountains which had names. And we'll never be able to use them without feeling uncomfortable. And somehow the mountains will never sound right to us; we'll give them new names, but the old names are there, somewhere in time, and the mountains were shaped and seen under those names. The names we'll give to the canals and mountains and cities will fall like so much water on the back of a mallard. No matter how we touch Mars, we'll never touch it. And then we'll get mad at it, and you know what we'll do? We'll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves.

“We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things.”
The Martian ChroniclesSpender chooses to stand up for what he believes in--colonization with appreciation for the existing culture, not trying to make something new into the old. ... "Martian Chronicles" is a commentary on the Western frontier and its colonization using the newest frontier--space--and its colonization. Like Spender, Bradbury's message is that some types of colonization are right and others are wrong. Trying to replicate the old civilization is wrong, but appreciating the civilization you have found is right.American Pathfinders:  Using Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles to Teach Frontier History

Comment:  The last point is important. Even if colonization is unstoppable and inevitable, there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. Columbus and the Europeans who followed him did it the wrong way. As Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus showed us, they could've done it the right way.

For more on the subject, see No Natives in Science Fiction? and The Best Indian Books.

1 comment:

Rob said...

A comment received via e-mail:

I'm a huge Bradbury fan--his enlightened attitudes, as you've pointed out here, have everything to do with that, not to mention his exquisite writing style.