This post is part of a series on Ray Bradbury and his book, “The Martian Chronicles,” which will run from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
THE NAMING OF NAMES
There are a few things going on in this short vignette, and most of it can be summed up as evidence of Spender’s fears (not Captain Wilder’s hopes) from “And the Moon Be Still as Bright” coming true. We see the imposition of Earth names on the Martian landscape, “all the mechanical names and the metal names of Earth.” This picture of the literal smashing of the ancient Martian stone by the hard, pragmatic metal of Earth is meant, I think, to be symbolic of the ancient and beautiful way of life of the Martians being replaced by the pragmatic and not-so-beautiful life of Earth.
This becomes increasingly clear as Bradbury writes with some scorn about the coming of the sophisticates who bring with them the rules and regulations of Earth, so that they can “plan peoples lives and libraries.” This is the clear set up for “Usher II,” as is the ominous reference to some of those who had come to Mars to avoid being pushed around, deciding to push back…
“Usher II” is one of the really fun, really memorable short stories in The Martian Chronicles, especially for fans of Edgar Allen Poe. On the surface, it is a tour de force of Poe’s short stories. The outside of the house is obviously patterned after Roderick Usher’s house from “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Inside the party takes place in 7 rooms patterned after the party rooms from “The Masque of the Red Death.” And, as the story unfolds, several murders take place to mimic deaths from Poe stories, climaxing with Stendahl walling in Garrett in tribute to “The Cask of Amontillado.”
For the true fan, there are innumerable allusions to the various stories in direct quotations, images and events, and it is fun to read through, pick them out, and admire how Bradbury pays tribute to Poe. I find the tribute very fitting, for Poe in many ways is the man more than any other who paves the way for Bradbury. Both excelled in the medium of the short story, especially when telling tales of the fantastical.
Below the surface fun of this tribute to Poe, Bradbury is of course trying to make a much more serious point. He again indulges his tendency at times to sermonize (as he does earlier with Spender) as he writes about the “Moral Climates” people and the censorship of not just books, but anything dealing with the fantastical or imaginative. This is obviously the theme that drives Fahrenheit 451 too, and it is sometimes hard for us in our time, so far removed from 1950 and the specter of McCarthyism to fully understand.
Whether we ultimately sympathize with Bradbury’s theme and sympathies here or not, there is a great ironic twist in the story that is just the kind of thing that Bradbury does so very well. “Usher II” revolves around this basic irony – the victims of Stendahl’s murderous scheme are largely if not entire ignorant of Poe and his stories, so they are vulnerable to them. This is very succinctly expressed by Stendahl as he walls Garrett in, “Ignorance is fatal, Mr. Garrett.”
Indeed it can be.
Next time we’ll look at “The Old Ones” and “The Martian.”