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The Stories of Ray Bradbury Summary & Study Guide Description
The Stories of Ray Bradbury Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
The Elliot Familyappears in Several Stories
The extended Elliot family is featured in three stories, "Homecoming," "Uncle Einar," and "The Traveler"; a fourth story "The April Witch," features one member of the family. The family consists of legendary humanoid monsters and some other atypical individuals, said to be magical. The family contains several named individuals. Timothy is apparently a normal human child without any special or monstrous abilities and without a taste for drinking blood, sleeping during the day, or sleeping in a coffin. The family believes that interbreeding with normal humans will remove their magical character—Timothy's strange "normal" origin is not explained as such, though his parents are obviously disappointed and also embarrassed by it. The kindly Uncle Einar is a winged man, apparently some type of a bat-man, with leathery green wings and an unusually well-developed night vision prior to an accident that leaves him partially blinded. Timothy's sister Ceci sleeps nearly constantly and projects her mind through space to observe others or possess them. Ceci can enter any type of animal or simply hover as a disembodied observer. Cecy, her named spelled differently, appears again in the story "The April Witch." Another family member is an Egyptian mummy, and so forth. Timothy and, later, Uncle Einar, feel isolated because of their lack of monstrous traits or abilities. On the other hand Ceci is isolated because of her ability. The family lives in the fictional Mellin Town, Illinois, at 12 Willow Street.
The Rocket Manappears in Rocket Man
In "Rocket Man" the protagonist is a fourteen-year-old boy named Doug. Doug lives with his mother and father; his father is usually away from home flying space rockets for a living. When the rocket man returns home he is very happy and mows the law, fixes appliances, takes the family on outings, and enjoys himself. As the days pass, however, he begins to stare at the stars and yearn for a return to space. Doug's mother tolerates the prolonged and frequent absences by mentally imagining the rocket man has already died—thus his visits are an unexpected event. The rocket man never contacts the family while he is away because he does not want to feel a yearning to return to them. The rocket man charges Doug to avoid being a rocket man. He explains that his desire is always elsewhere and frustrated—when in space he longs for home, but when at home he longs for space. The rocket man is unable to have both desires fulfilled and ends up dying in space as his rocket plunges into the sun. The rocket man is a keen insight into the nature of human desire; and his desire is contrasted by his wife's desire to have a reliable husband. The rocket man's space suit—form-fitting and black—symbolizes the gulf of desire that cannot be filled. The dust Doug extracts from the spacesuit is itself symbolic of the father's miniscule physical presence yielded only grudgingly. Like many of the space-faring characters in the collection, the rocket man is isolated, lonely, and incapable of close communication.
The Very Reverend Father Joseph Daniel Peregrineappears in The Fire Balloons
Father Peregrine is an Episcopal priest. He has written a pamphlet on planetary sin, in which he considers that Christian sin may be situational—that is, what is sinful on Earth may not be sinful on Mars or, more significantly, what is practiced on Mars might be sin unknown to Earth. Peregrine leads a delegation of missionaries to Mars and is selected to be in charge for "deplorably obscure" (p. 181) reasons but it is undoubtedly at least partially because of his agile definition of sin based on local circumstances. Upon arriving on Mars, Peregrine immediately determines to locate Martians and investigate their sinful practices; his fellow missionaries prefer to preach among the Earth settlers on Mars. Peregrine finds the Martians and eventually discovers they are intelligent, moral, and proactively involved in preventing acts they consider sinful. After Peregrine engages them a few times, the Martians speak to him and disclose they are the disembodied intelligences of once-physical Martians. They now live immortally and, because they are incorporeal, without any sin or tendency or desire to sin. Curiously, Peregrine accepts their situational definition of sin as being inextricably linked to physicality. Thereafter, the missionaries leave the Martians alone because they are deemed incapable of sin. Peregrine returns to the human colonies and begins to preach abstinence from drink and abstinence from sexual promiscuity; his focus being, of course, on the prevention of physical sin.
The Underhill Familyappears in The Playground
"The Playground" features members of the Underhill Family. Charles Underhill is an established businessman who is well-to-do but somewhat neurotic. His upbringing was apparently very painful and he recalls his childhood days with horror. Charles' late wife Ann died of unspecified causes. He has a young son Jim, on whom he lavishes much care. Jim, three years old, appears as a normal child in all aspects. Charles' sister Carol is unmarried and lives with Charles and Jim, acting as a sort of ward for Jim. During the story, Carol decides to start taking Jim to a local public playground. Charles visits the playground and finds it abhorrent. Full of noisy and mean children, it reminds Charles of his own unhappy childhood. He refuses to allow Carol to take Jim to the playground and begins to plan a way completely to shelter Jim from having to grow up. In the end, Charles voluntarily switches places with Jim. It is unclear whether Carol or Jim understands what has happened because as the story ends they wave and walk away together. Charles, on the other hand, has become an infant child on the playground and knows that he will have to "grow up again" (p. 321) as the price for what he sees as Jim's liberation. The story suggests Charles will remain on the playground for the next twelve years. While Charles' paternal sacrifice is certainly a magnanimous gesture, one wonders what type of person Jim will become devoid of any childhood experience.
Marie and Joseph Elliottappears in The Next in Line
Marie is the protagonist in "The Next in Line." She is a Caucasian woman probably in her late thirties or early forties. Marie is from the United States of America and is married to Joseph. They appear to be a normal married couple in many respects though they are taking an extended vacation, traveling through Mexico by automobile. Marie's relationship to Joseph has disintegrated to the point that he is no longer interested in her; he views her with a critical eye and in general disregards her feelings and judges her fears to be insignificant. Joseph feels at home in Mexico but Marie finds it disorienting and mildly frightening—she appears to be suffering from a mild case of "culture shock" and is unable to readily adapt to her surroundings. While Joseph explores the town and interacts with the locals, Marie hides in her hotel room and reads old American magazines. When she does venture into the town it is only to search for and buy new American magazines. Marie finds the Mexican vacation isolating, lonely, and distressing. Her vulnerability is heightened by her reliance on Joseph and is symbolized by her frequent nudity. The couple visits a Mexican graveyard which rents—rather than sells—burial plots. Corpses with insufficient rent are disinterred and placed in a crypt of mummies. Marie finds the experience very distressing; Joseph finds it intriguing—she experiences it emotionally; he experiences it intellectually. Marie considers her own aging body and likens it to clay impregnated with water and worked by Joseph as a sculptor, and she compares it to the drying and decomposing bodies of the mummies. Marie is afraid of death, afraid of premature burial, aware of the many symbols of death presented in the narrative, and saddened by the disintegration—death—of her marriage. She does not fear the skeletons of the deceased—the skeletons are not changing—but she fears death and the desiccation of the mummies because they symbolize the changes of age and death. Marie is vulnerable, isolated, and lonely. Marie wants to leave the town with the graveyard but is prevented by automobile troubles. Joseph enjoys the delay and Marie descends into panic. The story concludes with an ambivalent ending—Joseph drives back to the United States alone. One can infer that Marie is dead and buried in the abhorrent graveyard but there is no direct narrative evidence for this. Instead, Marie could have been simply abandoned or she could have made good on her threat to leave by alternative transportation. Note that similar characters of the same name appear later in the collection in "Interval in Sunlight," also set in Mexico.
Robert Prentiss Familyappears in The Strawberry Window
"The Strawberry Window" features Robert Prentiss, his wife Carrie, and their two sons. The family has left earth and colonized Mars as one of the first pioneering families. Carrie quickly grows homesick and strongly desires to return to earth. Robert explains his personal philosophy at some length—he feels that, ultimately, earth is doomed because of over-exploitation. In order to survive, he reasons, humanity must expand beyond earth to, first, Mars, and then beyond to other worlds and other solar systems (in Robert's understanding, most of the known planets in our solar system, including Pluto, are fully capable of supporting human life). While Carrie agrees with him philosophically, she finds Mars so utterly alien that she does not feel she will ever be able to adapt. Robert responds by spending the family's considerable savings to have their old earth home divided into pieces and shipped via rocket to Mars. On Mars he reassembles the pieces, effectively bringing the family's old earth home to their new home on Mars. Carrie looks through one stained-glass window, the strawberry window, and sees Mars from a different point of view. The family lives in a Martian town known as New Toledo.
Emma Fleet nee Gertzappears in The Illustrated Woman
The story "The Illustrated Woman" presents an initial interview between a psychologist and Emma Fleet. The interview is apparently impromptu but occurs at the psychologist's office. Emma is enormously fat but insists that this is not her complaint—in fact she would gain weight if she could. She gives her present weight as 402.5 pounds and notes she weighed 185 pounds in high school and weighed 250 pounds at age twenty-one. Emma currently is employed as a carnival fat woman; her husband, Willy Fleet, is a midget who works for the carnival guessing people's weight. Emma met Willy at the carnival where he was immediately smitten with her, mostly because of her girth. On their wedding night he asked her to strip nude and then examined her huge body with delight. Emma and Willy believe Willy to be an exceptionally gifted tattoo artist, and further believe that over the past seven years he has covered her entire vast body with artistic tattoos. Having no space remaining to continue his work, Willy loses interest in Emma and begins to cast a wandering eye at other fat women. Emma partially disrobes to show the psychologist her immense collection of tattoos whereupon the psychologist realizes she has not a single tattoo anywhere on her entire body. The psychologist then recommends Emma have the tattoos removed and broadly hints that even this step is not truly necessary, whereupon the unlikely couple's problems are solved—at least for another seven years. Emma and Willy exit the psychologist's office happily reunited in purpose.
Beck and Craigappears in The Blue Bottle
Beck and Craig are two men who are exploring an abandoned Mars in search of an ancient Martian artifact known as the blue bottle. Beck is highly motivated to find the blue bottle and has been searching for it for decades. He has come to realize that the pursuit of the object is his life's meaning and to this end he fears actually finding it. His desire is the motivating factor for the two men's companionship and journey. Craig, on the other hand, is uninterested in the artifact and only searches because Beck searches. The two men are only two of hundreds of men searching for the artifact on a Mars that has been exploited and abandoned by the rest of humanity. Beck and Craig finally find the blue bottle only to have it stolen from them at gunpoint. Craig abandons the pursuit as too dangerous, but Beck presses on. He pursues the thief, finds him dying, and pursues men who stole the artifact from the thief. Beck finally regains the blue bottle and realizes it contains man's greatest desire—he knows his own desire is death, and opens the bottle whereupon he happily disintegrates into ash. Later, Craig stumbles on the blue bottle and opens it to find it is full of bourbon.
The Wilder Familyappears in The October Game
The Wilder family, appearing in "The October Game," consists of Mich, the father, and Louise, the mother. They have one daughter, Marion, who is eight years old. Mich is dark complexioned and Louise is light complexioned. Their daughter is very light complexioned and looks like Louise but not like Mich. For at least a decade, Mich and Louise have been unhappy in their marriage and have routinely engaged in various forms of mental abuse of each other. Mich suspects Marion is not his daughter—the narrative suggests Mich knows this to be factual but refuses consciously to acknowledge it. Marion's conception and birth is insinuated to be the root cause of the couple's ongoing marital problems. Louise dotes on Marion; Mich finds her uninteresting but does feel guilty about his insufficient relationship with his daughter. Prior to Marion's birthday party, Mich contemplates murdering Louise but decides he would rather force her to suffer greatly than to kill her outright. During the birthday party Mich socially ostracizes Louise. The party ends as the twenty-odd guests descend to a dark basement to play a party game called 'the witch is dead' in which Mich passes around various slimy and strange objects which are handled and passed on in the dark. Mich announces each object as a body part of the slain fictional witch. The narrative describes how the game is played. As the game continues it is discovered that Marion is missing, whereupon Louise comes to believe, to her horror, that the objects being passed around in the dark basement are in fact body parts of her daughter, recently murdered and dismembered by her husband. Whether or not this is indeed the case is not established in the narrative.
Brat McGillaheeappears in McGillahee's Brat
In "McGillahee's Brat" the narrator discovers a man, ironically named Brat McGillahee, who is forty years old but appears, physically, as a newborn babe. McGillahee spends his days with his sister, a middle-aged woman, posing as a homeless mother and infant child who beg on the streets of Dublin. While begging, McGillahee acts like an infant and wails and shrieks. When his sister is ill, McGillahee "rents" himself out to other beggars. Several characters in the story mention McGillahee's doleful appearance, masterful acting ability, and particularly his abrasive but compelling voice which secures a good stream of income. McGillahee fears official discovery for undisclosed reasons, though the local populace appears aware of his strange nature. During the story the narrator manages to locate McGillahee and a lengthy discussion ensues. During their discussion, which forms the moral narrative of the story, McGillahee delivers what amounts to a monologue in which he explains his genesis, life, and philosophy. He claims he has never physically matured because his well-meaning but beaten-down father used to repetitively state that infancy was vastly preferable to growing up.
This section contains 2,653 words
(approx. 7 pages at 400 words per page)