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.”
Solitude and the Human Need for Connection ThemeTracker
Solitude and the Human Need for Connection Quotes in The Martian
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.