The Martian

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Solitude and the Human Need for Connection Theme Analysis

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.
Solitude and the Human Need for Connection Theme Icon

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 and other people on earth will someday read his log—even if he dies on Mars before help reaches him or without anyone even realizing he was still alive, he hopes to leave a record that can be recovered by future astronauts. In this way, the structure of the novel itself reveals Watney’s innate need to connect with other human beings.

During his solitude, Watney goes through media files on his crewmates’ laptops and zipdrives, reading Agatha Christie novels, watching 1970s sitcoms, and listening to Lewis’s disco music. At first this may just seem like entertainment for Watney, but, in fact, by reading his crewmates’ books, listening to their music, and watching their TV shows, Watney stays connected to them, even in their absence. This is made most clear in the way that Watney, after discovering Lewis’s love of disco and 1970s pop culture, complaints about her taste in music as a sort of running in-joke between Watney and the imagined future readers of his log. Watney, through his complaints, creates a kind of imagined camaraderie, both with Lewis and with the future log reader: he creates connections for himself.

On his Sirius 4 mission to reach Pathfinder, Watney reveals that he wants the radio not only to arrange his rescue, but also so that he can regain human connection. With the radio, he writes in the log, “I could be reconnected with mankind before I even die.” In an interview with CNN, NASA psychologist Dr. Irene Shields makes a similar point: “When facing death, people want to be heard. They don’t want to die alone. He might just want the MAV radio so he can talk to another soul before he dies.” Wier uses these comments to show that, while Watney’s actions are motivated primarily by his fight for survival, human connection is, like water, oxygen, or food, a key component of human life.

After the failed launch of Iris 1, Dr. Shields asks Watney to write personal notes to the Ares 3 crewmembers; these messages appear sporadically throughout the second half of the novel, giving the reader insight into Watney’s relationships with the rest of the crew. In his message to Martinez, Watney writes, “She says it’ll keep me tethered to humanity. I think it’s bullshit. But hey, it’s an order.” Watney’s reluctance to admit that he does, in fact, need human contact may be a survival mechanism. In spite of his cavalier attitude about remaining “tethered to humanity,” Watney occasionally admits to loneliness, and he does so with greater frequency as the possibility of rescue becomes more and more likely; this suggests that he denied his own loneliness as a defense against the fact that he feared he would be alone for the rest of his life. Just before his rescue, when Watney finally has direct contact with his Ares 3 crewmembers on Hermes, he writes, “I’ve really missed you guys.”

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Solitude and the Human Need for Connection ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Solitude and the Human Need for Connection appears in each Chapter of The Martian. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Solitude and the Human Need for Connection Quotes in The Martian

Below you will find the important quotes in The Martian related to the theme of Solitude and the Human Need for Connection.
Chapter 1 Quotes

LOG ENTRY: SOL 6 I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked. Six days into what should be the greatest month of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare. I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.

Related Characters: Mark Watney (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

When Weir opens The Martian with these sentences, the reader doesn’t yet know exactly what is happening. Watney’s profanity grabs our attention and indicates that he is in distress. At the same time, Watney’s quip, “that’s my considered opinion,” introduces readers to his glib sense of humor.

The log’s use of “sol” rather than “day” as a time-marker suggests that Watney is not part of the ordinary life on Earth that readers know, but we don’t learn that he is on Mars until several paragraphs later. From his assertion that no one will read this log for maybe a hundred years, we can guess that he is alone somewhere remote and that no one will come looking for him.

These first lines offer us just enough information to raise questions and encourage us to keep reading: we don’t know yet who he is, where he is, or what has happened to transform his life into a “nightmare.”

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Chapter 3 Quotes

Why did NASA send twelve whole potatoes, refrigerated but not frozen? And why send them along with us as in-pressure cargo rather than in a crate with the rest of the Hab supplies? Because Thanksgiving was going to happen while we were doing surface operations, and NASA’s shrinks thought it would be good for us to make a meal together. Not just to eat it, but to actually prepare it.

Related Characters: Mark Watney (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Potatoes
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

By Chapter 3, Watney has worked out a way to extend his food supply: he has created “compost” out of Earth soil samples, his feces, and Martian soil, and he has transformed the Hab into a greenhouse where he can grow potatoes. Astronauts usually eat freeze-dried food, so it’s a stroke of luck that he has potatoes that he can plant.

It’s significant that the potatoes were sent so that the Ares 3 crew could prepare a Thanksgiving meal. Thanksgiving celebrates how early American colonists avoided starvation; now Thanksgiving potatoes save Watney, a colonist on Mars, from starvation, too. The meal was intended to give the crew a chance to bond with one another and to allow them to share in the holiday their families and friends were celebrating at home. Watney is now gaining physical sustenance from something intended to preserve his emotional health, reminding readers that Watney’s survival depends on his remaining symbolically and practically connected to life on Earth.

Chapter 8 Quotes

“When facing death, people want to be heard. They don’t want to die alone. He might just want the MAV radio so he can talk to another soul before he dies. If he’s lost hope, he won’t care about survival. His only concern will be making it to the radio. After that, he’ll probably take an easier way out than starvation. The medical supplies of an Ares mission have enough morphine to be lethal.”

Related Characters: Dr. Irene Shields (speaker), Mark Watney, Cathy Warner
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the novel, NASA believes that Watney is modifying the rover so that he can drive to the Ares 4 MAV, where there’s a radio he can use to contact NASA. In an interview with Cathy Warner, anchor of CNN’s The Mark Watney Report, NASA flight psychologist Dr. Irene Shields gives an analysis of the emotions that Watney is likely experiencing.

Watney rarely references his own emotions, and when he does, he tends to play them off as inconsequential, so his feelings are almost as much of a mystery to the reader as they are to CNN’s studio audience. In an earlier log entry, Watney has already mentioned that he would rather take a lethal dose of morphine than starve to death, so Dr. Shield’s mention of this possibility gives credence to the rest of her analysis, including her assertion that hope is essential for human survival.

Weir uses the scene to emphasize that connection with other people is a basic human need, and that the human capacity for hope can push people to survive in seemingly impossible circumstances. This basic desire to be heard may, in fact, explain why Watney is keeping a detailed log that he knows may never be found.

Chapter 9 Quotes

It’s a strange feeling. Everywhere I go, I’m the first. Step outside the rover? Frist guy ever to be there! Climb a hill? First guy to climb that hill! Kick a rock? That rock hadn’t moved in a million years! I’m the first guy to drive long-distance on Mars. The first guy to spend more than thirty-one sols on Mars. The first guy to grow crops on Mars. First, first, first! I wasn’t expecting to be first at anything. I was the fifth crewman out of the MDV when we landed […] Man, I miss those guys. Jesus Christ, I’d give anything for a five-minute conversation with anyone. Anyone, anywhere. About anything. I’m the first person to be alone on an entire planet.

Related Characters: Mark Watney (speaker)
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

As Watney makes his way towards the Pathfinder probe, he contemplates the fact that he is the first person ever to make this journey—and the first to do many other things. Through a turn of bad luck, Watney has become a person who gets to make history, again and again and again. Making history is supposed to be exciting, but Weir uses the repetition of the phrase “first guy to…” to create the sense that Watney no longer feels a thrill at the idea of being an explorer in an uncharted land. He is first at everything because he is alone, and like the isolation of life on Mars, the title of “first guy to…” is becoming tiresome.

Through this scene, Weir shows the reader how desperately Watney misses contact with other humans. Watney’s wish for a five-minute conversation reminds us of Dr. Shield’s warning that Watney could be looking for a radio simply so that he can speak to another person before he dies. As the first person to be alone on an entire planet, Watney is the test case for how long a person can last in utter isolation.

Chapter 10 Quotes

For the first time, I think I might get off this planet alive. With that in mind, I’m taking soil and rock samples every time I do an EVA. […] It just feels nice to be an astronaut. That’s all it is. Not a reluctant farmer, not an electrical engineer, not a long-haul trucker. An astronaut. I’m doing what astronauts do. I missed it.

Related Characters: Mark Watney (speaker)
Page Number: 105-106
Explanation and Analysis:

After recovering Pathfinder, Watney begins his long drive back to the Hab. Though he does not yet know if the radio will work, he feels a renewed sense of hope. Watney’s faith that he will survive this ordeal seems to show that he is not seeking the radio only so that he can speak to someone before committing suicide, which is a possibility that Weir has allowed to hover over the novel’s events since Dr. Shields’ interview with Cathy Warner in Chapter 8.

Through Watney’s comment that he is finally “an astronaut” again, Weir reminds readers that, ever since he was abandoned on Mars on Sol 6, Watney’s days have been entirely focused on guaranteeing his own survival. Now, taking samples gives Watney a purpose beyond mere survival: he can share his scientific findings with other people if he’s able to return to Earth.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Earth is about to set. Resume 08:00 my time tomorrow morning. Tell family I’m fine. Give crew my best. Tell Commander Lewis disco sucks.

Related Characters: Mark Watney (speaker), Commander Melissa Lewis
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Watney gains contact with NASA through the repaired Pathfinder radio, they exchange a series of messages in which Watney explains how he survived and updates them on his status. This is his final message during that first conversation: a rather terse series of greetings to be passed on to his family and the Ares 3 crew.

Throughout the novel, Weir makes it clear that Watney loves his parents and misses them, but he is self-conscious about expressing his emotions, particularly when it comes to his parents. Here, his message to his family is even more emotionally neutral than his message to the crew: while he sends the crew his “best,” he only tells his family that he is “fine.” Watney often copes with emotional situations through humor, and, true to form, the most personal message he sends is to Commander Lewis, but this message is an in-joke about Lewis’ taste in music. Watney could say, “I don’t blame you for leaving me behind.” Instead, he says, “Disco sucks.”

Chapter 12 Quotes

“Holy shit,” Beck laughed. “Holy shit! Commander! He’s alive!” “I left him behind,” Lewis said quietly. The celebrations ceased immediately as the crew saw their commander’s expression. “But,” Beck began, “we all left togeth—” “You followed orders,” Lewis interrupted. “I left him behind. In a barren unreachable, godforsaken wasteland.”

Related Characters: Commander Melissa Lewis (speaker), Beck (speaker), Mark Watney
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

Now that NASA has gained contact with Watney, Teddy finally gives Mitch permission to inform the Hermes crew that Watney is alive. In this scene, Weir uses dialogue to show the contrast between the crew’s celebratory mood and Lewis’s sense of guilt and grief at the realization that she gave the order to leave Watney behind. Beck seems to laugh out loud with joy, and Weir highlights his emotion through his use of profanity and short, fragmented sentences punctuated with exclamation points. In contrast, Lewis speaks quietly and in complete sentences. She is introspective, a world away from the happy, laughing people around her.

Lewis’s reaction to the news shows that she holds herself accountable for her crew’s safety, so much so, that she blames herself for Watney’s death, even when no one else (including Watney) does. In this way, Weir shows that true leadership can mean taking on emotional burdens as well as practical responsibilities.

Chapter 13 Quotes

Now that NASA can talk to me, they won’t shut the hell up. They want constant updates on every Hab system, and they’ve got a room full of people trying to micromanage my crops. It’s awesome to have a bunch of dipshits on Earth telling me, a botanist, how to grow plants. I mostly ignore them. I don’t want to come off as arrogant here, but I’m the best botanist on the planet.

Related Characters: Mark Watney (speaker)
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Watney spent months longing for human contact, but during that time he grew accustomed to making plans and solving problems on his own. He is happy to have contact with NASA again, but he is frustrated by NASA’s constant instructions and requests for new information. Watney’s hostility to NASA reads as an overreaction, but Weir uses Watney’s frustration with NASA management to show that, though regaining contact with NASA is a net gain for Watney, it comes with drawbacks, too.

Under NASA supervision, Watney is no longer free to take the kinds of risks that he could before. Organizations like NASA make enormous scientific advances like space travel possible, but bureaucracy can stifle the creativity, risk-taking, and independent thinking that is essential to scientific progress.

But my favorite email was the one from my mother. It’s exactly what you’d expect. Thank God you’re alive, stay strong, don’t die, your father says hello, etc. I read it fifty times in a row. Hey don’t get me wrong, I’m not a mama’s boy or anything […] It’s totally manly and normal for me to cling to a letter from my mom. It’s not like I’m some homesick kid at camp, right?

Related Characters: Mark Watney (speaker), Watney’s mother
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Now that Watney has hacked the rover to “talk” to NASA through Pathfinder, he receives daily “data dumps” of emails, just like the Ares 3 crew on Hermes. This includes fan mail and letters from friends and family. Watney is, understandably, moved to receive a letter from his mother, but he is self-conscious about admitting how much the letter meant to him.

Watney attempts to downplay the importance of the letter by describing its contents as routine: “exactly what you’d expect.” His assertion, “I’m not a mama’s boy or anything” has the defensive tone of a child trying ward off a bully’s joke by making the same self-deprecating joke first. Part of this self-consciousness may come from the fact that he knows his log will be read by many people in the future. Throughout the novel, Watney routinely avoids or downplays his emotions in an attempt to portray himself as “strong” and traditionally masculine.

Chapter 17 Quotes

There’s still soil everywhere. No point in lugging it back outside. Lacking anything better to do, I ran some tests on it. Amazingly, some of the bacteria survived. […] it only takes one survivor to stave off extinction. Life is amazingly tenacious. They don’t want to die any more than I do.

Related Characters: Mark Watney (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Potatoes
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

Watney’s potato plants died when the Hab canvas breached in Chapter 14. Watney was able to mend the Hab, but he had assumed that all of the bacteria in the soil had died, too. Now, discovering that the bacteria is alive is a seemingly miraculous surprise. Watney does not often wax poetic, but here he sees the bacteria’s survival as an analogue to his own situation. It’s a fluke of luck that he, like the bacteria, is still alive on Mars—and yet, somehow, they’ve managed it. Weir uses the bacteria as a symbol for the persistence of living things, suggesting to readers that, like bacteria, human beings are driven by a basic instinct to survive against all odds.

Chapter 23 Quotes

If I could get Opportunity’s radio working, I’d be in touch with humanity again. NASA would continually tell me my exact position and best course, warn me if another storm was on its way, and generally be there watching over me. But if I’m being honest, that’s not the real reason I’m interested. I’m sick of being on my own, damn it!

Related Characters: Mark Watney (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Dust Storm
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

Watney is now just a few days’ drive from the Ares 4 MAV when he realizes that, if he made a short detour, he could reach the site of the lander Opportunity, which has a radio much like Pathfinder’s. Watney begins to rationalize why this would be a practical choice—NASA could warn him about dust storms—but soon decides that he’ll head straight to the Ares 4 MAV.

Weir uses this passage to show us how desperate Watney is for human contact. Watney knows there’s little practical advantage to adding several days to his trip in order to pick up and repair a radio when he’ll be at the Ares 4 MAV and its radio in a few days anyway. Watney is self-aware enough to recognize that he’s only considering the detour because he really wants to speak to another person again.

In this passage, Watney doesn’t seem ashamed to admit that the isolation of life on Mars has had an emotional impact on him. This uncharacteristic lack of self-consciousness emphasizes just how lonely he feels.

Chapter 26 Quotes

They gathered. Everywhere on Earth, they gathered. In Trafalgar Square and Tiananmen Square and Times Square, they watched on giant screens. In offices, they huddled around computer monitors. In bars, they stared silently at the TV in the corner. In homes, they sat breathlessly on their couches, their eyes glued to the story playing out.

Related Characters: Mark Watney
Page Number: 342
Explanation and Analysis:

In the opening to the final chapter of The Martian, Weir uses the repetition of “they gathered” to build the sense of an event touching the lives of people in homes, offices, and public spaces around the world. The image of people gathering to watch the news coverage of Watney’s rescue emphasizes the momentousness of the event, while drawing the reader deeper into the story; like the people watching around the world, the reader is waiting with bated breath to see what will happen next.

Through this passage, Weir once again reminds the reader that The Martian’s story is much bigger than Watney; it’s also the story of the scientists and astronauts who arranged his rescue, the reporters and media outlets that kept his story in the public eye, and the people who see him as a symbol of human courage, resourcefulness, persistence, and scientific progress,

I think about the sheer number of people who pulled together just to save my sorry ass, and I can barely comprehend it. […] Part of it might be what I represent: progress, science, and the interplanetary future we’ve dreamed of for centuries. But, really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out.

Related Characters: Mark Watney (speaker)
Page Number: 368
Explanation and Analysis:

Weir closes The Martian with Watney’s final log entry, written after the Hermes crew successfully brings Watney aboard the ship. Watney is tired, wounded, and dirty, but he is nonetheless supremely happy to be safely reunited with the crew, as well as grateful to all the people who made his rescue possible.

Weir uses Watney’s reflections on his rescue to highlight a few of novel’s key themes. For millions of people, Watney himself has become a symbol of hope and progress, and his story shows how people from around the world are willing to unite in the name of science, new knowledge, and exploration.

Watney writes that people have “a basic instinct to help each other out,” a comment that reveals the novel’s absolute faith in humanity. Watney, like just about every other character in The Martian, is generous, brave, and selfless, indicating that, in Weir’s eyes, these are not uncommon traits: perhaps they are even the qualities that make us human.