Throughout the story, the identity of the settlers of Mars, as well as the landscape itself, is constantly changing. At first, the settlers are resistant to these changes and cling to the remnants of their old lives and ties to Earth. However, the more time they spend on Mars and the further removed they become from their circumstances on Earth, the less resistance they show against the encroaching landscape and accompanying changes—eventually going so far as to enjoy their new life and largely forget their origins on Earth. While change can have a destructive capacity, it is ultimately characterized as an inevitable and natural process, one that the settlers cannot resist even if they try. In fact, resistance to change tends to make the characters unhappier, as seen in Harry’s frantic attempts to build a rocket back to Earth, and in his frustration and anger with the calm acceptance of the other settlers.
One of the first things that begins to bother Harry about the Martian environment is the changes undergone by the plants and animals. The changing characteristics of the crops and livestock they brought from Earth at first provokes fear and anger among the settlers before they grow accustomed to these changes. Although the crops originate from Earth, their changing characteristics ultimately make it difficult to associate them with their former identities. The roses may still be identifiable, but is a green rose still a rose? Is a violet lawn still grown from grass?
These questions at first deeply disturb Harry, but they begin to seem less pressing the more he becomes acclimated to the Martian environment. While the living things brought from earth have undergone changes, to the extent that they are sometimes no longer recognizable, they have not been violently severed from their former identities. Instead, they have undergone a process of change which, eventually, seems inevitable and natural. Harry at first refuses to accept these changes, even when they are entirely out of control, refusing to eat food unless it has been grown on Earth and stored in a deep-freeze.
The physical and mental changes to the settlers are in some ways the most disturbing, but they, too, are gradually accepted and even celebrated as resistance to a new, Martian identity fades with time. From the time he first steps foot on Mars, Harry feels as if his identity is being slowly leeched away: “The wind blew as if to flake away their identities. At any moment, the Martian air might draw his soul from him, as marrow comes from a white bone. He felt submerged in a chemical that could dissolve his intellect and burn away his past.” In this instance, Harry sees this dissolution of identity as complete and destructive, and so he is afraid of the influence that the Martian environment has upon him and his family, worrying that “If we stay here, we’ll all change.” The settler’s gradual forgetting of their life on Earth, and their darkened skin and golden eyes, all make it seem to Harry as if they are becoming truly alien.
Harry’s attitude toward change slowly shifts, however, the more acclimated he becomes to the Martian environment. When he goes swimming with his wife and children, he sinks to the bottom of the canal momentarily, reflecting, “If I lie here long enough […] the water will work and eat away my flesh until the bones show like coral. Just my skeleton left. And then the water can build on that skeleton—green things, deep water things, red things, yellow things. Change. Change. Slow, deep, silent change. And isn’t that what it is up there?” For Harry, change may still be frightening, but it is now a more organic and necessary experience. It’s no longer something that can be fought off forever, and he even recognizes it as something that can be potentially generative and produce new life.
As much as Harry Bittering tries to resist the changes that happen to him and his family, in the end he succumbs to the influence of the Martian landscape, and finds some measure of peace and happiness in his altered identity. Although he may not remember much of what has come before, he is no longer troubled by the shifts he has undergone, and is still able to retain aspects of his identity such as his relationships with family and friends. Similarly, while the Martian landscape may be named and renamed, settled and resettled, it retains a certain amount of its own fundamental character. While change may be constant and sometimes destructive, it is also generative, constantly moving towards the future without completely severing its ties to the past.
Change and Resistance ThemeTracker
Change and Resistance Quotes in Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed
The wind blew as if to flake away their identities. At any moment the Martian air might draw his soul from him, as marrow comes from a white bone. He felt submerged in a chemical that could dissolve his intellect and burn away his past.
Earth people left to the strangeness of Mars, the cinnamon dusts and wine airs, to be baked like gingerbread shapes in Martian summers, put into harvested storage by Martian winters. What would happen to him, the others? This was the moment Mars had waited for. Now it would eat them.
You know they have! Onions but not onions, carrots but not carrots. Taste: the same but different. Smell: not like it used to be.” He felt his heart pounding, and he was afraid. He dug his fingers into the earth. “Cora, what’s happening? What is it? We’ve got to get away from this.” He ran across the garden. Each tree felt his touch. “The roses. The roses. They’re turning green!”
“If we stay here, we’ll all change. The air. Don’t you smell it? Something in the air. A Martian virus, maybe; some seed, or a pollen.”
Lying abed, Mr. Bittering felt his bones shifted, shaped, melted like gold. His wife, lying beside him, was dark from many sunny afternoons. Dark she was, and golden-eyed, burnt almost black by the sun, sleeping, and the children metallic in their beds, and the wind roaring forlorn and changing through the old peach trees, the violet grass, shaking out green rose petals.
“Cora, how long have your eyes been yellow?” She was bewildered. “Always, I guess.” “They didn’t change from brown in the last three months?” She bit her lips. “No. Why do you ask?” “Never mind.”
They leaped into the canal water, and he let himself sink down and down to the bottom like a golden statue and lie there in green silence. All was water-quiet and deep, all was peace. He felt the steady, slow current drift him easily.
If I lie here long enough, he thought, the water will work and eat away my flesh until the bones show like coral. Just my skeleton left. And then the water can build on that skeleton—green things, deep water things, red things, yellow things. Change. Change. Slow, deep, silent change. And isn’t that what it is up there?
Looking at the small white cottage for a long moment, he was filled with a desire to rush to it, touch it, say good-bye to it, for he felt as if he were going away on a long journey, leaving some thing to which he could never quite return, never understand again.