The Martian

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Themes and Colors
Science, Human Ingenuity, and the Fight to Survive Theme Icon
Bureaucracy vs. Human Endeavour Theme Icon
Solitude and the Human Need for Connection Theme Icon
The Betrayal of the Familiar Theme Icon
The Media Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Martian, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In the closing pages of The Martian, Watney declares that, to the public, his story of survival represents “progress, science, and the interplanetary future.” This is true: The Martian is indeed a story of scientific progress on a grand scale. However, Wier’s detailed descriptions of how Watney uses basic chemistry, biology, math, botany, and engineering to survive on Mars makes it clear that science is only as powerful as the logic, creative thinking, human…

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Throughout The Martian, Watney and other characters complain about the limitations that bureaucratic oversight places on their work. The novel shows that NASA’s many safety checks, official protocols, and layers of supervision are designed to protect scientists and astronauts, but they can also result in inefficiency. More troublingly, NASA’s bureaucrats are often willing to sacrifice one individual’s autonomy in the name of protecting the organization itself. The novel shows this dynamic in part through…

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Watney is utterly alone on Mars, and for long sections of the book, he is unable to contact NASA. While the work of surviving in this new environment initially keeps him occupied, his days and nights soon become repetitive, boring, and empty. Though Watney rarely says so, many of his actions reveal his desire for human connection.

The sections of The Martian told from Watney’s perspective are written as log entries. Watney hopes that NASA…

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Stuck alone on Mars for far longer than intended, Watney finds himself in an inhospitable environment where, unlike on Earth, his body is not designed to survive. Naturally, Watney comes to rely on technology to keep himself alive, such as the Hab, the rovers, and EVA suits. While this technology keeps him alive, its very strength conceals two dangers: First, the technologies’ apparent reliability allows Watney to fall into a series of familiar routines that…

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Watney’s apparent death, the discovery that he is alive, and the effort to rescue him are, for the duration of the novel, the biggest news story on Earth. People from around the world are caught up in the story of his against-all-odds survival, and CNN dedicates a new show, The Mark Watney Report, to keeping the public up-to-date on Watney’s life on Mars. NASA is keenly aware of the news coverage and the public’s…

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