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A common theme in science fiction is outer space. Many of Bradbury's stories take place there. As critic Wayne L. Johnson observes, "For Bradbury, space is not merely a stage upon which stories of the future are played, it is what the Great Plains were to the pioneers, not just a frontier but a symbol of the future for the human race" (49). If space serves as a symbol of the future for the human race, the story "Kaleidoscope" has a large amount of symbolism. In this story, the crew of a spaceship is shot into space. "The first concussion cut the rocket up the side with a giant can opener. The men were thrown into space like a dozen wriggling silverfish. They were scattered into a dark sea; and the ship, in a million pieces, went on, a meteor swarm seeking a lost sun" (Bradbury The Stories of Ray Bradbury 143). The view expressed in "Kaleidoscope" is that although people come from one original being, they grow apart all the time. This divergent evolution is clearly expressed as each member of the crew, although separated for a short time, changes their view on the situation. The crewmen being hurled at the sun has a happy attitude, while the ones being hurled into darkness are engulfed in it. Bradbury might have not intended the reader to find this theme in the story, but it shows how creatures adapt to their environment.
Another element of Bradbury's writing is robots. Wayne L. Johnson explains that "the robot represents the ultimate heart of the scientific conceit, wherein men's knowledge of the universe becomes so great that he is able to play God and create other men" (73). Robots represent the degrading value of life present in society. All of Bradbury's robot stories found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury come to unhappy endings. They are "horror stories as well as light-hearted warnings against taking robots for granted" (74). Many stories with robots are considered science fiction because robots are considered to be futuristic things. Bradbury uses robots to show the value people place on science over human beings. In "Marionettes, Inc.", two men are unhappy with their wives. One man, Braling tells the other man, Smith, that he has purchased a robot to take his place as a husband.
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Another common element, Mars, serves as the setting for a lot of Bradbury's works. Mars seems to be a very effective setting. It produces a feeling of mystery since no man has ever been there. This is very helpful to Bradbury because he does not give specific details about his environments. He never gives a literal description of Mars in his stories. He allows the reader to make their own mental picture of the surface of Mars (Touponce 230). This is a great aspect of his writings because by not writing a description of the setting, the reader can enjoy making their own. Each person can view certain things differently. In Bradbury's stories, the reader is free to.
Space travel represents what the sea once was in Bradbury's writings. In "The Rocket Man", space travel has become a common thing. Many people become pilots and crewmen on rocket ships, even though it is dangerous. To one man, space travel becomes a passionate job. It becomes an addiction like the sea is for sailors. The man chooses the risk of death and space over his loving family, and he eventually dies. Space seems to "get into a man's blood" (Johnson 40). On a larger scale, space represents any addiction in today's society.
Of all the symbolism found in the novel Fahrenheit 451, there were some examples that were particularly interesting. Bradbury mentions "this great python" that Guy Montag, the main character, is holding to start a fire (3). This is in reference to the fire hose that Montag holds. This "python's" venom is kerosene, which is used to burn the books. The title of the novel includes the number four hundred fifty-one. Montag wears this number on his sleeve. Significantly four hundred fifty-one degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper burns. Another interesting use of symbolism deals with the firefighter's helmets. Each firefighter wears a "black beetle-colored helmet" (4). This description comes from the fact that the beetle, with its black horns is connected in literature with Satan. The firefighters are performing satanic acts when burning books. There is symbolism when the character Beatty says "'Old Montag wanted to fly near the sun and now that he's burnt his damn wings, he wonders why'" (113), which is similar to the greek mythological character Icarus. Beatty alludes to Icarus the son of Daedalus. After Daedalus makes wings and teaches his son to fly, he warns the boy to not fly too close to the sun. Icarus, intrigued with the power of flight, flies close to the sun and the wax which holds the wings together melts, dropping him into the sea below. He drowns. Beatty also says "You think you can walk on water" (118). By tying these two points together, Beatty is basically saying that if Montag continues to "fly" higher, then he better be able to save himself when the time comes. These examples of symbolism were entertaining pieces of the novel.
Bradbury's themes are usually either slightly hidden or obvious. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, Bradbury had published a story dealing with racism. "The Big Black and White Game" takes place on a warm summer day. Some servants from a hotel play a baseball game against some of the white guests. Since this story was written a long time ago, some of the language is harsh, but the story clearly expresses the racist view of many whites and the kindness of many blacks. The black servants dominate the white players in the game. A lot of the white men and women involved in the game are rude and mean to the black people. Since the story is told through the eyes of a child, the point of view is honest and unbiased. This story is cleverly written and attacks racism. Bradbury was opposed to segregation, and he was not afraid to denounce it in the most effective way he could, through his pen (Bradbury The Stories of Ray Bradbury 280).
Bradbury's stories have very interesting effects on the minds of the characters. Sometimes characters alter their religious beliefs in these stories. Since Bradbury believes in transcendentalism, many of the characters in his stories begin to follow it. In "Powerhouse", a woman turns to transcendentalist beliefs. After her epiphany,
The earth was suddenly more than many separate things, more than houses, rocks, concrete roads, a horse here or there, a human in the shallow, boulder-topped grave, a prickling cactus, a town invested with its own light surrounded by night, a million apart things. Suddenly it all had one pattern encompassed and held by the pulsing electric web (Bradbury 294).
The woman finds her unity with the universe through relaxation. Another story that deals with transcendentalism is "The Fire Balloons." In this story a Catholic priest turns to transcendentalist ideals. The priest realizes that his beliefs are not necessarily correct, and he accepts that there are things he does not know or comprehend yet, but that everything will fit together eventually like a jigsaw puzzle (Johnson 131). Although he does not write about it often, religious themes are found is Bradbury's writings.
Death is an interesting theme in Bradbury's writings. In "There was an Old Woman," a vigorous old woman is actually able to defeat death and stay alive. He often "reduces death to a palatable symbol, a somewhat theatrical figure in a Halloween costume" (30). He minimizes death to an obstacle that can be defeated. The human spirit ends up prevailing in a fight for its life.
Imagination is one of the most valuable things to Bradbury. This is most clearly expressed through "No Particular Night or Morning." Traveling through space, two men debate existence. One man, Hitchcock, says that whatever is not in his presence is presumed dead. After the two men debate for a while, a comet hits the ship they are traveling in. Hitchcock, convinced that God is trying to kill him, goes insane. Hitchcock gets in a spacesuit and exits the ship. As he floats into space and away from the ship, Hitchcock talks to himself. He tells himself "'No more space ship now. Never was any. No people…Nothing. Only space. Only space. Only the gap'" (Bradbury The Stories of Ray Bradbury173). To Bradbury, a living human without an imagination is worse than never being alive (Johnson 54).