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.
The Betrayal of the Familiar Theme Icon

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 mask just how different, and dangerous, Mars is for him. Second, because the technology is so helpful, it is easy for Watney to underestimate how vulnerable the technology is to damage, and to forget just how dependent he is on this technology in order to survive.

In fact, Watney faces many of the novel’s greatest challenges when he fails to account for the differences between the Earth and the Martian environment, or when a seemingly minor mistake damages his equipment. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Watney’s nearly disastrous attempt to make water by separating hydrogen gas out from hydrazine fuel. During the process, Watney inadvertently leaves enough hydrogen in the air to risk an explosion. While removing the hydrogen from the air, he nearly suffocates by inhaling too much nitrogen. He then pulls on an oxygen mask, but, when he exhales, he adds enough oxygen into the air to cause an explosion in the Hab. Breathing oxygen and exhaling a combination of oxygen and carbon dioxide is, on earth, the most natural thing in the world. Yet on Mars, in the Hab, oxygen is dangerous—the very things Watney needs to survive could kill him.

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The Betrayal of the Familiar ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Martian related to the theme of The Betrayal of the Familiar.
Chapter 6 Quotes

Today was the memorial service for Mark Watney. The President had given a speech, praising Watney’s bravery and sacrifice, and the quick actions of Commander Lewis in getting everyone else to safety […] The administrator had given a speech as well, reminding everyone that space flight is incredibly dangerous, and that we will not back down in the face of adversity.

Related Characters: Mark Watney, Venkat Kapoor, Teddy Sanders, The President
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage opens Chapter 6, and marks readers’ first glimpse of events on Earth. Weir uses flat, declarative sentences to create an authoritative tone that gives readers the sense that they are hearing the “official” account of events, the version of the story that will appear in history books and government documents. The narrator summarizes the president’s speech in a way that makes it seem impersonal; as a dead national hero, Watney has become two-dimensional. Readers know him as funny, nerdy, and resourceful, but to the public, he is simply brave and self-sacrificing, like any other dead national hero.

The narrator’s summary of the speech given by the NASA administrator (Teddy Sanders, whom readers will soon meet) also seems like a series of clichéd stock-phrases. This speech is not so much about Watney as it is about the future of space-travel. Reading between the lines, we can see that Teddy is afraid that the tragedy of Watney’s death will make people question the wisdom of sending astronauts on dangerous missions. He is encouraging the public and US government not to “back down in the face of adversity” because he fears that, in light of Watney’s death, future NASA missions will suffer from lack of public support.

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Chapter 22 Quotes

“The edge of the storm isn’t a magic line. It’s just an area where the dust gets a little more dense. […] It’ll be really subtle; every day will be slightly darker than the last. Too subtle to notice.” Venkat sighed. “He’ll go hundreds of kilometers, wondering why his solar panel efficiency is going down, before he notices any visibility problems. And the storm is moving west as he moves east. He’ll be too deep in to get out.”

Related Characters: Venkat Kapoor (speaker), Cathy Warner (speaker), Mark Watney
Related Symbols: The Dust Storm
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:

CNN reporter Cathy Warner is interviewing Venkat on The Mark Watney Report when she asks him about the dust storm that Watney is driving towards. Once Watney enters the storm, his solar panel efficiency will begin to gradually decrease, and NASA has no way to warn him about it.

The dust storm is one of the last major problems that Watney must solve before he reaches the Ares 4 MAV, but it’s set apart from the other challenges he’s faced while on Mars because he likely will not know that the problem exists until it’s too late to solve it. The true threat to Watney is not the storm itself, which would be easy to drive around if Watney knew about it, but the limitations on what he knows and what he can observe.

For all his problem-solving skills and creative thinking, Watney is helpless in the face of his own ignorance. Weir uses the dust storm to emphasize how helpless NASA is, too. Without any way to contact Watney, the NASA team can make all the observations and perform all the analysis they could dream of, and they still won’t be able to come to Watney’s aid.