In “Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed,” the settlers are initially industrious farmers, working the land and extracting resources from it. After their ties to Earth are severed, Harry Bittering works determinedly at constructing a rocket from scratch, despite the seeming futility of his plan. And when new settlers arrive years after the initial settlers have been altered by the Martian environment, they, too, begin setting up industrious plans to resettle and reclaim the area. This is all in stark contrast to the activities that the settlers adopt once they have been infected by Martian attitudes: activities that emphasize leisure, nature, and harmony with one’s environment. Throughout the story, Bradbury links an unnecessary (and perhaps even harmful) sense of industry and natural exploitation with the colonizers, while associating those who have become acclimated to Mars with leisure and affinity with the natural world. While colonizers can perhaps only ever have an exploitative relationship with the land they settle, those who are indigenous or who become acclimated are able to foster a more authentic and less destructive relationship with the place they inhabit.
Initially, the settlers are industrious, constructing houses, farming, gathering resources, and building up a new civilization. Harry touts the accomplishments of the settlers, boasting, “Colonial days all over again […] Why, in ten years there’ll be a million Earthmen on Mars. Big cities, everything!” For Harry and the other settlers, this conquest of Mars is an accomplishment. Although they do not view Mars as home, they take pride in having subdued it. Even when their connection from Earth is severed, Harry still insists on industry as the key to their continued relationship with themselves and their world. When his son asks him, ““Father, what will we do?” he replies, “Go about our business, of course. Raise crops and children. Wait.” Harry still sees the raising of Earthly crops and children on Martian soil as the only thing to do until contact with Earth resumes, emphasizing the way in which he relates to the Martian world as a space to control and colonize rather than as one to fully inhabit.
When travel to and from Earth is disrupted by nuclear war, Harry still insists on a fevered kind of industry as he builds his rocket. When he sees the men in town idling around after news of the nuclear war, he is frustrated by their lack of industry, wondering, “What are you doing, you fools!...Sitting here! You’ve heard the news—we’re stranded on this planet. Well, move!” Rather than relax and enjoy his days, as the other men seem to be doing, he obsessively focuses on the construction of a rocket that will tie him back to his planet of origin.
The longer Harry spends on Mars, however, the less urgent his plans for the rocket become and the more he adapts to a more natural Martian lifestyle. At the conclusion of the story, the rocket is entirely forgotten, a “flimsy rocket frame rusting in an empty shop.” Earthly industry has been replaced by Martian leisure, in part because the tie between Earth and Mars has been so violently severed by the war. Since they are stranded on Mars, they are no longer merely colonizers or settlers, but come to accept themselves as actual inhabitants.
The settlers who have acclimated to Mars have different priorities than they did when they still believed themselves to be colonizers. Eventually, they abandon their colonial settlement entirely, preferring instead to inhabit the scattered Martian villas that loosely populate the mountainous countryside. They now live in and around Mars itself, rather than in an artificially constructed, Earth-like settlement. They enjoy swimming in the canals and other leisure activities, such as playing music and weaving tapestries, and they no longer see the need to return to their settlement and resume working on rockets or tilling their fields.
When new colonizers arrive on Mars, they, too, begin to set up grand, industrious plans: “New settlements. Mining sites, minerals to be looked for. Bacteriological specimens taken. The work, all the work.” However, it is implied that they, too, will abandon these plans if given the opportunity to become acclimated to the Martian environment, and to inhabit it as natives rather than colonizers. The “blue color and the quiet mist of the hills far beyond the town” already captivate their attention and imply a different way of interacting with the Martian world.
While colonizers from Earth initially emphasize industry over leisure and productivity over enjoyment, as the Martian environment infects them they slowly begin to shift their priorities. Although Bradbury does not explicitly condemn the relationship that the colonizers initially have to their environment, it is one that ultimately has a violent and unpleasant history. From the brutal conquest of the Americas that is obliquely referenced in the Native American and Presidential names of the Martian geography, to the more immediate references to nuclear weapons and constant warfare, the relationship of the colonizer to the colonized seems problematic as long as it is constantly underpinned by industry and exploitation. Bradbury transforms the original settlers into a “native” people, playing into both positive and negative racial stereotypes that characterize native peoples as darker skinned, more leisurely and less industrious, and more in tune with their natural environment. In contrast to their previous attitudes as colonizers, the new Martians adopt a different way of relating to the land and inhabiting the world, implying that a decolonized perspective might serve as a valuable correction to current attitudes.
Colonization, Industry, and Leisure ThemeTracker
Colonization, Industry, and Leisure 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.
He glanced up from the garden to the Martian mountains. He thought of the proud old Martian names that had once been on those peaks. Earthmen, dropping from the sky, had gazed upon hills, rivers, Martian seats left nameless in spite of names. Once Martians had built cities, named cities; climbed mountains, named mountains; sailed seas, named seas. Mountains melted, seas drained, cities tumbled. In spite of this, the Earthmen had felt a silent guilt at putting new names to these ancient hills and valleys.
The Earthmen had changed names. Now there were Hormel Valleys, Roosevelt Seas, Ford Hills, Vanderbilt Plateaus, Rockefeller Rivers, on Mars. It wasn’t right. The American settlers had shown wisdom, using old Indian prairie names: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Idaho, Ohio, Utah, Milwaukee, Waukegan, Osseo. The old names, the old meanings.
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.
“ Lots to be done, Lieutenant.” His voice droned on and quietly on as the sun sank behind the blue hills. “ New settlements. Mining sites, minerals to be looked for. Bacteriological specimens taken. The work, all the work. And the old records were lost. We’ll have a job of remapping to do, renaming the mountains and rivers and such. Calls for a little imagination.
“What do you think of naming those mountains the Lincoln Mountains, this canal the Washington Canal, those hills—we can name those hills for you, Lieutenant. Diplomacy. And you, for a favor, might name a town for me. Polishing the apple. And why not make this the Einstein Valley, and farther over . . . are you listening, Lieutenant?”
The lieutenant snapped his gaze from the blue color and the quiet mist of the hills far beyond the town.