Saul Williams’s first thought upon waking up to another quiet Martian morning is “how far away” the Earth is. Well before Leonard Mark’s arrival, Bradbury establishes the incredible sense of isolation that Saul—and all the Martian exiles—must feel, having been torn from the familiarity not simply of their individual homes, but of their entire home planet. By emphasizing the men’s intense longing for Earth and desperate wish for meaningful social interaction, Bradbury argues for the importance of both home and human contact. Life without either, the story suggests, not only drives men to dangerous extremes, but is, in fact, not really life at all.
The desolation of Mars is immediately evident in Bradbury’s bleak description of the landscape outside Saul’s tent, which is “still” and “silent,” the sky “empty.” Underscoring the sense of stifling monotony and hopelessness is the detached, straightforward prose used to describe Saul’s morning routine, which makes even his attempts to kill himself seem utterly mundane: “Later in the morning Saul tried to die,” Bradbury writes. “He lay on the sand and told his heart to stop. It continued beating.” The extreme dreariness of life on Mars contrasts sharply with the vibrancy of that on Earth, which Bradbury later describes as “explod[ing] in electric color.”
That Saul wants Earth “so bad it hurts […] more than food or women or anything” further imbues the concept of home with the importance of any other basic human need. Saul’s first request of Mark—the place he would like to be “most of all” in that moment—is notably a beloved childhood creek. Though he ultimately harbors ambitions of visiting places of grand historic importance through Mark’s power, of primary importance is the comfort and familiarity of home.
Without this comfort, the story implies, men grow weak and listless. Saul recalls that, at first, the Martian exiles would gather around a campfire and talk wistfully about nothing but Earth. Yet as their sickness progressed, even this grew too taxing. Now, illness has robbed the men of the ability to interact at all; instead, the sickest huddle across the dead sea “like so many emptied bottles flung up by some long-gone wave […] all of them sleeping alone […] each grown into himself, because social converse was weakening and sleep was good.” Not only have the men been cut off from Earth, but they have also been completely isolated from one another. That they are lying on a dead sea bottom symbolically reflects that, unable to communicate or even dream of the homes they’ve lost, the men themselves are already dead.
It is no wonder, then, that Saul is repeatedly referred to (and refers to himself) as “lonely.” Such loneliness is “an affliction of the rusted ones,” a nearby man lying on a blanket tells Saul when the latter tries to strike up a conversation. Because of their illness, the men are completely devoid of genuine human contact. Even when the healthy-looking Mark arrives, Saul notes that his carriers wear “protective germicide suits” and depart quickly, physically connoting their separation from and aversion to the doomed Martian exiles.
Only upon having established the devasting bleakness of the men’s situation does Bradbury reveal their bloodthirsty greed. Saul calls the other exiles “insane,” to which Mark responds, “Isolation and all make them that way?” After Saul later kidnaps Mark, the visitor accuses Saul himself of having been driven “insane with loneliness.” Bradbury underscores that the men’s selfish desperation is fueled by their intense isolation and longing for connection with a world that has cast them aside like so many “emptied bottles.” The real tragedy of blood rust, it seems, is not simply that it kills its victims, but that it forces them to die alone—tossed off like trash to another planet, to spend their days “bleeding all the time, and lonely.”
That’s why Mark’s death proves so devasting to Saul, as he realizes he has lost all hope of reconnecting with, and will spend his final, painful days searching for, a home he will never see again: “He would rise every morning and walk on the dead sea looking for it, and walk forever around Mars, looking for it, and never find it,” Bradbury writes. “And finally lie, too tired to walk, trying to find New York in his head, but not finding it.”
Bradbury’s judgment is not reserved for the men of Mars, but also targets those on Earth who sent the infected off to Mars in the first place. Men are not meant to spend their final days rotting in a foreign atmosphere, the story argues, and treating human beings like refuse is at once maddening and inhumane. In sending these men to Mars, the people of Earth have abandoned those in need and denied them basic decency and comfort at their end of their days. Bradbury’s story argues that such unfeeling quarantine is cruel because, in denying men their homes and human contact, it effectively denies them their humanity.
Isolation, Loneliness, and Home ThemeTracker
Isolation, Loneliness, and Home Quotes in The Visitor
After that he wanted very much to be back on Earth. During the day he tried every way that it was possible to be in New York City. Sometimes, if he sat right and held his hands a certain way, he did it. He could almost smell New York. Most of the time, though, it was impossible.
Along the shores of the dead sea, like so many emptied bottles flung up by some long-gone wave, were the huddled bodies of sleeping men. Saul could see them all down the curve of the empty sea. One, two, three—all of them sleeping alone, most of them worse off than he, each with his little cache of food, each grown into himself, because social converse was weakening and sleep was good.
“The rest of the week I’m to be left strictly alone, do you hear?” Mark told them. A little should be better than nothing. If you don’t obey, I won’t perform at all.” […]
“Let me talk,” said Johnson. “He’s telling us what he’ll do. Why don’t we tell him! Are we bigger than him, or not? And him threatening not to perform! Well, just let me get a sliver of wood under his toenails and maybe burn his fingers a bit with a steel file, and we’ll see if he performs! Why shouldn’t we have performances, I want to know, every night in the week?”
It didn't work. It wasn’t the same. New York was gone and nothing he could do would bring it back. He would rise every morning and walk on the dead sea looking for it, and walk forever around Mars, looking for it, and never find it. And finally lie, too tired to walk, trying to find New York in his head, but not finding it.
The last thing he heard before he slept was the spade rising and falling and digging a hole into which, with a tremendous crash of metal and golden mist and odor and color and sound, New York collapsed, fell, and was buried.