In “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed,” by Ray Bradbury, the Bittering family moves to Mars to escape an atom war on Earth. Mr. Bittering is uneasy and reluctant to live here; he says that the place was meant for Martians, not Earth people like them- but this is their safest option. A few days after their arrival to Mars, news comes from Earth that New York has been bombed- no more rockets to Mars. Mr. Bittering is devastated; up until then he had consoled his restlessness toward living on Mars with the o knowledge that he could buy a ticket back to Earth at any time if he wanted to. Later, while he is gardening, he notices that the peach blossoms and vegetables are different somehow, although he cannot quite tell how. Later they find that their grass is turning violet and their cow has grown a third horn. Mr. Bittering is afraid that interacting with this stuff for much longer may result in them changing, too. He resolves to build a rocket himself. In town, he finds that none of the other colonists are upset by the news of the bombing on Earth. Sam hands him a mirror, and he sees that he has developed golden specks in his eyes. He drops the mirror and gets to work on the rocket. A few days later they run out of food from Earth, and he is forced to eat food from their garden. Cora, his wife, invites him to go swimming with her and the children. He reluctantly agrees. While they are swimming, he asks Cora how long her eyes have been yellow, and she replies always, and that the children’s eyes have changed to yellow, which is completely normal for children. His son Tim asks to change his name to Linnl, and they agree without thinking too much about it. Throughout the next week, building the rocket becomes less and less important in Mr. Bittering’s mind. He and his family decide to move up to an old Martian villa for the summer, leaving most of their belongings behind in their settlement. They later decide to come back “next year, or the year after, or the year after that.” A few years later, a rocket comes from Earth to rescue them. They find the colonial villages abandoned, with only tall, dark, golden-eyed Martians living up in their villas. They decide that a plague of some sort must have wiped out the colony. The story ends with the humans naming landmarks after American leaders.
A couple of things I found that made this story compelling, besides its unique plot, were the use of figurative language (of all types) and foreboding.
A family moves to Mars and slowly turns into Martians- a pretty unnerving topic to start out with. But I felt that the element of the story that really topped it off was the figurative language. The author uses figurative language copiously throughout the piece, especially in the beginning. For example, on the first page:
He picked up the luggage in his cold hands. ‘Here we go,’ he said- a man standing on the edge of a sea, ready to wade in and be drowned.
This metaphor gives us a peek at exactly how Mr. Bittering feels about this move- not just his opinion, but the exact sensation he gets when he thinks about living on Mars. We get so much more from this piece of figurative language than we would if the author had simply said “Mr. Bittering was unsettled by the idea of living on Mars.” The same goes for the line:
‘I feel like a salt crystal,’ he often said, ‘in a mountain stream, being washed away.’
At any moment the Martian air might draw his soul from him, as marrow comes from white bone.
This not only shows figurative language, but foreboding as well; in the end, you could say that the Martian air did draw his soul from him, in the sense that he lost his identity due to the move to Mars. This story is packed with foreboding that you may not pick up on until the second or even third time reading it. One example of this is how the author says things like “sun-browned hand” and “burnt almost black by the sun” throughout the piece. While on the surface it seems like the people are getting extremely sunburned; only later does it become evident that they were actually transforming into dark Martians. Another example is when Mr. and Mrs. Bittering are talking in the canal and she says it’s normal for children’s eyes to change color. Mr. Bittering replies:
“Maybe we’re children, too. At least to Mars.”
This could just seem like an offhand thought at first, but once we know a little more about the plot, we can see that this is true in the sense that Mars is changing them.
These are both things I would like to imitate with my own writing. I find it makes writing more flavorful, and it makes the reader more easily sucked in to the story.
-What lesson, if any, do you think we were meant to learn from this story?
-The Bitterings own a voice clock that sings “Tick tock, seven o’clock” at seven in the morning, just like the clock in “There Will Come Soft Rains,” by the same author. Do you think there is any connection?
-Why do you think Ray Bradbury chose to make Bittering the only defiant character? Why aren’t there other characters who try to resist the change?