What is normal? This is a question the members of Grey Havens YA have been exploring as we dip our toes into the strange Martian canals of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. In the first few stories, we see a Martian perspective of Earth:
“The third planet is incapable of supporting life. … Our scientists have said there’s far too much oxygen in the atmosphere.”
“Blue eyes! Gods! … What’ll you dream next? I suppose he had black hair?”
In our introductory discussion, we introduced the postmodern and poststructuralist concept of signs and simulacra and Jean Baudrillard’s notion that “The sign is arbitrary.” It was wonderful to watch our young members slowly grasp hold of a philosophy that most students don’t learn about until their university years. Signs and symbols… what is normal? What does normal even mean? What do our words signify and why? Is it all arbitrary?
To the martians, brown skin and gold eyes are normal. Blue eyes — preposterous! Oxygen isn’t what you need to support life, it’s carbon-dioxide that you need.
To one of our members, having asthma was always the norm. Using an inhaler since she was a very small child, the idea of breathing freely made no sense to her mind. To another, lack of depth perception was her only way to see the world until new glasses drastically improved her vision. We spoke of color-blindness and the new Encrhoma lenses…
What is normal? The Martians certainly don’t seem normal to us. Bradbury goes to great lengths to show us just how different their life is: bubbling hot lava tables to cook your dinner, beds of mist, scarves in bottles, houses made of pillars of rain, flame birds to carry your canopy… And yet, and yet, something about those Martians seems hauntingly familiar. A husband and a wife, a troubled marriage, jealousy, murder– Is the fourth planet so very different from the third?
Today, we dive in deeper– we’ll read about the second and third expeditions. We’ll see how the Martians react to the Earth Men. Perhaps we’ll talk about war, or sanity, or xenophobia, or pride… Perhaps we’ll simply marvel at the beauty of the prose or shudder at the horror of the story. Perhaps that red Martian landscape will show us just a little bit more about ourselves, and we’ll come back here to tell the tale. Will you follow along?
Send us an owl: What has been your experience reading The Martian Chronicles?