'The Locusts' is a captivating chapter or vignette within Ray Bradbury's 1950 science fiction novel, The Martian Chronicles. The novel depicts the human exploration and settlement of Mars at the turn of the century after Earth becomes uninhabitable due to a nuclear war. In this particular vignette, ninety thousand Americans from Earth emigrate to Mars, marking a significant event in the colonization of the red planet. Although 'The Locusts' might be seen as a vignette rather than a traditional short story, it warrants closer analysis for its portrayal of the human arrival and settlement on Mars, a pivotal moment in Bradbury's Martian saga.
In The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury sets 'The Locusts' in February 2002, fifty-two years after the book's initial publication. This vignette was specifically crafted for inclusion in The Martian Chronicles, a novel that weaves together various previously published short stories with new material to create a cohesive narrative.
Rockets Descend on Mars
'The Locusts' vividly describes the arrival of rockets from Earth onto the surface of Mars, leaving a trail of scorched ground upon landing. The rockets resonate with a rhythmic beating akin to drums and gather like a swarm of locusts, evoking the title of this vignette. From the rockets emerge men carrying hammers, their purpose to shape the Martian landscape into a semblance of Earth, the familiar world they have left behind.
The settlers waste no time and immediately begin hammering nails into the ground, constructing modest cottages that will serve as their dwellings. Accompanied by the women who arrived in the rockets, flower-pots and pans are brought in, forming makeshift kitchen areas where they can prepare meals within their humble abodes.
Emergence of Martian Towns
Remarkably, within just six months, a dozen small towns emerge across the Martian surface, illuminating the landscape with neon lighting and electric bulbs. The narrator reveals that a total of ninety thousand people have successfully made the journey from Earth to Mars, with even more individuals preparing their construction materials, eager to join the growing community of settlers and expand the colonies on the red planet.
Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is a 'fix-up' novel, a compilation of pre-existing stories seamlessly woven together with new material to create a coherent narrative. The novel revolves around the earliest human settlers on Mars, fleeing from Earth after a devastating nuclear war rendered their home planet uninhabitable.
An Allegory of Colonialism
Bradbury's early fiction often delves into themes of colonization, exemplified by the short story 'The City,' included in The Illustrated Man (1953). 'The City' tells the tale of a city seeking revenge on Earth, as previous Earthmen brought a deadly disease that decimated the city's inhabitants. This story can be interpreted as an allegory of colonialism, where Earth, as a whole planet, has colonized another world in a different star system. This parallels historical colonial practices, where one nation explored, conquered, and subjugated another, often bringing diseases to which the native inhabitants had no immunity.
The Plague of Locusts
The simile of locusts in 'The Locusts' also carries a connotation of disease, referencing the biblical plague of locusts in the Old Testament. In this vignette, we can perceive a commentary on colonialism as the American settlers from Earth arrive on Mars. Instead of seeking contact with the indigenous Martians, they immediately set about transforming the Martian landscape, attempting to replicate their previous Earth environment. This mirrors the historical parallel of colonial settlers imposing their values and preferences on the land they colonize, often disregarding the native culture and environment.
Invasion and Imaginative Response
Bradbury's choice of the title 'The Locusts' suggests a negative portrayal of the settlers as a swarm of dangerous pests. Although the rockets rather than the settlers are likened to locusts, the simile still conveys a powerful message. The word 'invasion' further emphasizes the impact of the settlers' arrival on Mars.
The Martian Chronicles, as a whole, can be seen as Bradbury's imaginative response and inversion of H. G. Wells's classic novel, "The War of the Worlds." In Wells's story, the Martians invade Earth, while Bradbury reverses the direction of invasion, depicting humans as the colonizers on Mars. Although there are no locusts in Wells's novel, the suggestive word 'swarm' in the opening sentence evokes a similar image.
Bradbury's skillful blend of science fiction, social commentary, and imaginative storytelling makes The Martian Chronicles a thought-provoking exploration of colonization, human impact on new environments, and the consequences of such ventures.