Bradbury's Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed: Summary & Overview

Instructor: Robin Small

Robin has a BA/MAT in English Ed, and teaches 6th grade English and Writing Lab.

In Ray Bradbury's ''Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed'', Harry Bittering struggles with what it means to be an Earthling on Martian soil, until his homesickness takes a surprising turn.

The Red Planet
Mars from Hubble

Nothing is Constant but Change

When people leave the home of their ancestors, and settle in a new land, they usually intend to change their new home. But sometimes it changes them instead. In Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed, flowing water symbolizes the invisible forces at work on the Martian colonists. It also represents the enduring presence of a dead civilization, and its effect on the living.

Invisible Currents

Harry and Cora Bittering land on Mars with their three children. As they step off the rocket, the other passengers make their way to town. But Harry is suddenly overwhelmed by the sensation of drowning. He wants to turn around and go back to Earth, but Cora and the children are unconcerned, and they dismiss his fears.

His foreboding only increases, and the more normal their life on Mars seems, the more alarmed he becomes. Even his young son David feels the Martian presence in the empty cities. He remarks to his father, 'Maybe they're Martians we don't see… I wonder if they mind us living here.' Harry tries to comfort his son, 'Nonsense… All dead cities have some kinds of ghosts in them. Memories, I mean.'

Young David is right to be concerned, because the ghosts, the memories of Mars, are not like those that typically inhabit empty cities. These are alien ghosts, alien memories, and they affect the ordinary moments in Harry's simple, daily life. He needs to check and recheck small details, always expecting something to be different, or wrong. He feels different, too. 'I feel like a salt crystal,' he says, 'in a mountain stream, being washed away. We don't belong here. We're Earth people. This is Mars. It was meant for Martians.'

Harry maintains his regular routines, always knowing in the back of his mind that he could simply buy a ticket home. Suddenly, war on Earth breaks out, atom bombs destroy the fleets of rockets, and the Martian colonists are stranded. His family continues to grow food in the garden, and swim in the canals. Meanwhile, Harry's fear turns to panic, as he realizes the food they are growing has changed in subtle ways that he can't quite explain. Then the cow grows a third horn, and the grass turns purple and the red roses green, proving that he has not imagined the changes. He forgoes eating Martian food and eats only the frozen food left from Earth, but that soon runs out. He tries to build a rocket, and wakes one morning using Martian words.

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