Nicole’s Blog

Reflection: 11-08-17

In today’s conversation, I was extremely interested in the topic of Bradbury’s depiction of Mars, especially when thinking about how it serves as a not-so-subtle reference to colonization and the annihilation of the indigenous people of the Americas. Though I am not an expert on the history of Native American oppression throughout much of this country’s past, I am familiar with the rhetoric of Manifest Destiny campaigns spread by men like James K. Polk and John O. Sullivan during the 19th century. Not so coincidentally, a lot of this exact rhetoric can still be found in works of science fiction and western literature as well as film.

Therefore, I would like to look at Bradbury’s series of short stories as a critique of both science fiction and western genres, which often use the nonhuman—whether that be indigenous populations (often in the form of extraterrestrial life) or the frontier—as mediums that must bear the weight of the human’s communal and individual desires/illusions. This can be seen in the text through the Martian’s telepathic and shapeshifting abilities, which are, at first, their salvation, but eventually their curse. For example, Tom, in one part of the text, is killed by the barrage of melancholy and yearning being felt by the townspeople surroundings him. In the case of the planet, Mars, itself, it serves as the setting which many Americans from Earth see as their last chance to relive a time of rugged individualism, far from the corruption and stifling institutionalism in their home planet.

At the end of the novel, Bradbury (somewhat) shatters the optimism of these idealistic philosophies, arguing this process of projection on the nonhuman is inherently unsustainable. Humanity in the present will soon meets its own demise, repeating the process the native Martians underwent and leaving the planet the way it was before life settled there.

Before coming to this conclusion, I would like to explore other similar motifs in both genres, such as the idea of the “vanishing Indian” and the Native American or alien having a much more direct relationship with the natural world. In addition, I briefly considered talking about Walt Whitman’s expansionist brand of patriotism in some of the poems of Leaves of Grass, but that may be too overwhelming of a topic for the reader.


  1. Introduction:
    1. Bradbury claims not to have directly read or have been influenced by Whitman and his works (Conversations with Ray Bradbury)
    2. Tentative Thesis: Selected poems in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles both explore the Native American community as mystical symbols of American expansion. Whitman cannibalizes indigenous people, appropriating their allegedly primitive way of life in his romanticized depiction of the American settler as the “new” savage. Bradbury, on the other hand, through his sobering depiction of the abuse and exploitation of Mars and its native people, presents a flawed, but very firm criticism of Whitman’s American Frontier Mythology, portraying native Martians as more than just mystical beings and granting them a humanity that highlights the cruelty of their downfall.
  2. Origins of American Frontier Mythology: Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis:
    1. Originally proposed in “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”
    2. Describes Western Frontier as “exclusively American,” becoming a cornerstone of American identity.
    3. Mentions instances of “Indian Resistance” hindering the inevitable expansion of the United States.
      1. “Expansion fueled and guided by economic demand: “The exploitation of the beasts took hunter and trader to the west, the exploitation of the grasses took the rancher west, and the exploitation of the virgin soil of the river valleys and prairies attracted the farmer. Good soils have been the most continuous attraction to the farmer’s frontier. The land hunger of the Virginians drew them down the rivers into Carolina, in early colonial days; the search for soils took the Massachusetts men to Pennsylvania and to New York” (26).
    4. Does warn of the “dangers as well as” the “benefits” of “Individualism in America,” specifying the “laxity in regard to governmental affairs which has rendered possible the spoils system and all the manifest evils that follow from the lack of a highly developed civic spirit.”
  • Like Turner, Walt Whitman believed that the frontier served as a way to create a truly American way of life, escaping the legacy of Europe. While he does not express any disagreement with the concept of an “Indian problem,” he is somewhat less dismissive of indigenous Americans.
    1. “Years of Modern”
      1. “I see the frontiers and boundaries of the old aristocracies broken, / I see the landmarks of European kings removed’
      2. But unlike Turner, sees this sort truly “American spirit” in the naturalist, primitive way of life he seems to associate with Native American culture.
    2. Walt Whitman and the “Savage”
      1. “Songs of Myself”
        1. Whitman seems to appropriate and stereotype the culture and perceived way of life of indigenous people through the term of “savage” to describe the individualist spirit of white settlers.
        2. “The friendly and flowing savage, who is he? / Is he waiting for civilization, or past it and mastering it? / Is he some Southwesterner rais’d out-doors? is he Kanadian? / Is he from the Mississippi country? Iowa, Oregon, California?” (39).
      2. “Songs of Myself” Part II
        1. Mention of the “Red Girl” marrying a white man (10).
        2. Interracial coupling a reference to the domination and cooptation of the indigenous people.
          1. Feminization of Indigenous populations.
        3. Ed Folsom’s “Culturing White Anxiety: Walt Whitman and American Indians” disagrees with this interpretation, seeing it instead as a metaphor for the racially harmonious nation Whitman envisions (67).
        4. Counterargument: Patrick Wolfe’s argument in his essay, “Land, Labor, and Difference: Elementary Structures of Race” where he argues that “Mixed-bloodedness became the post frontier version of the vanishing Indian” (1)
        5. Whitman seems to say that Native Americans are bound to slowly disappear as settlers move west, as they are vulnerable to both racial and cultural assimilation.
      3. “The Sleepers”
        1. This poem does look at the equality American democracy can potentially offer, as Whitman seems to argue that “dreams” are what all Americans have in common (i.e. “the blind sleep,” and the “prisoner sleeps”).
        2. But Native Americans are not mentioned as dreamers, instead they are visions or ghostly entities that appear in other people’s dreams.
          1. “But the red squaw never came nor was heard of there again.”
        3. Appearance of indigenous persons casts them as dreamlike, nonhuman entities that live on another plane, Whitman simultaneously mythologizing and excluding them from America’s diverse landscape and population.
      4. “From Far Dakota’s Canyons”
        1. Glorifies and reframes the terrible defeat of General Custer and his men.
        2. Describes the land being fought over as “lonesome” and “silent” as if the Sioux and did not historically live or exist there.
  • Transition into The Martian Chronicles
    1. As a product of Cold War anxieties, Bradbury is much more aware of the violence of American colonialism Whitman seems to gloss over or romanticize in Leaves of Grass. Though Bradbury seems to possess some admiration for Whitman’s romanticized illustration of Western America, Martian Chronicles also grapples with its hypocrisies. In addition, according to the text’s disdain for government censorship, Whitman’s vision of America’s individualist spirit never came into fruition.
  • “June 2001: And the Moon Be Still as Bright”
    1. The metaphor between the Martians and indigenous Americans comes about when it is discovered that nearly their entire population was wiped out by chicken pox (50).
      1. 90% of Native Americans killed by diseases brought over by European settlers (The Story Of… Smallpox)
    2. Spender, the expedition’s archaeologist, is able to recognize the complexity and “majestic” nature of Martian civilization, rather than just seeing them as underdeveloped savages (51). Unlike Whitman, he understands that there was a culture and people who lived there in the past, and sees their demise as a tragedy, rather than an inevitability.
    3. Spender, unlike many of the brutish and ill-tempered members of the expedition, may seem like a mouthpiece for Bradbury’s thoughts on the oppression of Native people (David Mogen).
  1. Criticism of Spender’s Character
    1. But even Spender possesses an unrealistic idealization of Martian culture that is similar to Whitman’s, claiming to be some sort of authority on the subject.
    2. When he calls himself “The Martian,” claiming some kind of affinity with the native people of the planet, he is appropriating what he perceives to be their way of life.
    3. His condescending response to Cheroke’s unwillingness to join him, “Of all them, I thought you would understand.” (60), displays a kind of disconnect or simplistic understanding of the indigenous experience.
  2. “February 1991: Ylla”
    1. If anything, Bradbury gives the reader of glimpse of the quotidian nature of Martian existence, as they too are capable of committing violence or creating intrusive bureaucratic institutions.
    2. In “February 1991: Ylla,” Ylla and her husband seem to live a peaceful life in which their technology is not destructive, but in tune with nature, which parallels the popular perception that indigenous people were part of the earth.
    3. But, as later seen in the story, their marriage is not perfect. They too are capable of feeling jealousy and hurting other senselessly.
    4. Ylla’s husband’s mask, which “[hides] his feelings and his “evil weapon” which “flung” poisonous bees, are material technologies/objects that almost seem to rebel against nature the way in which human rockets do (11).
  3. “August 1991: The Summer Night”
    1. Through the Martian’s humorous dismissal of the third American expedition t0 their planet, one can also see the tedious bureaucracy and hypocrisies that exists within Martian communities.
  • “August 2002: The Meeting”
    1. The meeting between Tomas and the Martian, and their inability to tell which one is the “ghostly” apparition (83), is Bradbury’s strongest statement on the erasure of Native people’s physical bodies, as he draws parallels between human and Martian civilizations. Ultimately, the binary between Martians from the Past and the Humans of the Future is inconsequential, as both of their civilizations are bound to grow and collapse.
      1. “What does it matter who is past or future?” (86).
  • September 2005: The Martian
    1. Bradbury is trying to criticize the mysticism associated with Native Americans that is used by historical narratives to disguise their humanity and their persecution.
    2. Though “Tom,” the Martian pretending to be LaFarge’s deceased son by capitalizing off their longing to be reunited with him, dies due to the barrage of desires and needs from other townspeople.
      1. He is a symbol of a disseminated community that has been violently molded, erased or exploited by American settlers and their desperate need to realize their dreams or reaffirm their own philosophies in the frontier.
  • Conclusion

Update: 11-23-2017

With about half of my paper’s draft written, I currently trying to unpack some of the meaning–both literary and historical–of a specific series of lines of Whitman’s epic poem, “Song of Myself.” Written during at time when racial tensions were at an all-time high (slightly before the Civil War), it almost seems as if Whitman reviles the treatment of Native and Black people in the country.

But overall, Native American communities or individuals are not mentioned on the poem all too often, as they are somewhat secondary to the narrator’s own self-reflection. In one instance, Whitman, or the narrator, “I,” imagines a version of Western American that is much more racially harmonious, painting the picture of a young “Red Girl” marrying a white trapper as her father watches over their marriage ceremony (10). This is the interpretation made by, Whitman-scholar, Ed Folsom, in his essay, “Culturing White Anxiety: Walt Whitman and American Indians.” In his view, the lines serve as a metaphor for the racial utopia Whitman strives for the West to become (67).

Indeed, at a first glance, this may seem like Whitman attempting to insinuate that individuals of different races can somehow interact and unite. But under a more post-colonial lens, one can see this interracial coupling as a reference to the domination and cooptation of the indigenous people and their culture. The “red girl” may serve as a feminized symbol of rapidly shrinking native populations in North America subdued by the masculine American settler.

From a much more literal perspective, Patrick Wolfe’s argument in his essay, “Land, Labor, and Difference: Elementary Structures of Race” can shed some light on this line. He argues that “Mixed-bloodedness became the post frontier version of the vanishing Indian” (887). Therefore, one can argue that Whitman is instead encouraging the argument that Native Americans are bound to slowly disappear as settlers move west, as they are vulnerable to both racial and cultural assimilation.

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