The Illustrated Man

The Illustrated Man  by  Ray Bradbury

The Grand Master Editions  Bantam Books  1951   186 pages

I am very glad I did not take the time to read this in graduate school when I was researching tattoos. More than one person suggested this book because the “illustrated man” is heavily tattooed, yet the book has nothing to do with him. I don’t even know why Bradbury went to what little trouble he did to include him at the beginning of what is essentially a collection of short stories. A tattooed man wanders place to place in search of a job. He comes upon a young lad whom he befriends and explains that his tattoos tell the future. At night the tattoos move. The tattoos are a curse placed upon him by a witch. Each tattoo tells a story, and if one looks at him long enough, he or she will become one of the tattooed stories. Even though the boy is asked not to, he stares at the man’s tattoos all night as the tattooed man sleeps. Each tattoo shows us the story that we have before us. Each tale is pretty short, so this book would be a good “before going to sleep” book. Most of the stories have to do with spaceships and intergalactic travel. Each story also seems to hint at a moral of some kind. I will give you the name of each story, some best bits, and its synopsis.

  1. The Veldt This is one of my favorites since it puts the kids in charge of their own world. What they do with it is gruesome! The Hadleys have allowed technology to take over their life. It spoils their children and kills the parents.
  1. Kaleidoscope A philosophical piece regarding looking back at your life and wondering what it was all for. How did you use your time? Did you live or dream about living?
  1. The Other Foot People of color were shipped to Mars as Earth began a nuclear war. Twenty years later a white man came to visit and let them know that Earth was destroyed. The Martians had plans to subjugate the man like the way of life in America, but when they learn of the fate of the Earth, they feel the man has been punished enough.
  1. The Highway A theme of atomic war again and the thought of being so far removed that you don’t know or even understand the news.
  1. The Man Of searching, belief, skepticism, and faith. What would you think if Jesus actually returned? Would you dismiss it? Believe? Follow him? Laugh?
  1. The Long Rain On Venus there is only rain. It makes all visitors crazy.
  1. The Rocket Man I really liked the following passage that described the mindfulness a child needs from his/her parent:.

“‘Let’s hear it,’ he said at last.

And I knew that now we would talk, as we had always talked, for three hours straight. All afternoon we would murmur back and forth in the lazy sun about my school grades, how high I could jump, how fast I could swim.

Dad nodded each time I spoke and smiled and slapped my chest lightly in approval. We talked. We did not talk of rockets or space, but we talked of Mexico at noon, seeing the hundred butterflies sucked to our radiator, dying there, beating their blue and crimson winds, twitching, beautifully, and sad. We talked of such things instead of the things I wanted to talk about. And he listened to me. That was the thing he did, as if he was trying to fill himself up with all the sound he could hear. He listened to the wind and the falling ocean and my voice, always with a rapt attention, a concentration that almost excluded physical bodies themselves and kept only the sounds. He shut his eyes to listen. I would see him listening to the lawn mower as he cut the grass by hand instead of using the remote-control device, and I would see him smelling the cut grass as it sprayed up at him behind the mower in a green fount.”

What is it like to be an astronaut with a family? He is caught between two worlds. He loves his family and space equally. Eventually, the father/astronaut is killed in space. The wife began pretending he was dead long ago in preparation for this eventuality.

  1. The Fire Balloons This passage is good:

“‘I wonder–’ Father Peregrine mopped his face. ‘Do you think if we called Hello! They might answer?’

‘Father Peregine, won’t you ever be serious?’

‘Not until the good Lord is. Oh, don’t look so terribly shocked, please. The Lord is not serious. In fact, it is a little hard to know just what else He is except loving. And love has to do with humor, doesn’t it? For you cannot love someone unless you put up with him, can you? And you cannot put up with someone constantly unless you can laugh at him. Isn’t that true? And certainly we are ridiculous little animals wallowing in the fudge bowl, and God must love us all the more because we appeal to His humor.’

‘I never thought of God as humorous,’ said Father Stone.

‘The Creator of the platypus, the camel, the ostrich, and man? Oh, come now!’ Father Peregrine laughed.”

On the next page there is some more good stuff:

“And again, Independence Night, thought Father Peregrine, tremoring. He felt like a child back in those July Fourth evenings, the sky blowing apart, breaking into powdery stars and burning sound, the concussions jingling house windows like the ice on a thousand thin ponds. The aunts, uncles, cousins crying, ‘Ah!’ as to some celestial physician. The summer sky colors. And the Fire Balloons, lit by an indulgent grandfather, steadied in his massively tender hands. Oh, the memory of those lovely Fire Balloons, softly lighted, warmly billowed hits of tissue, like insect wings, lying like folded wasps in boxes and, last of all, after the day of riot and fury, at long last from their boxes, delicately unfolded, blue, red, white, patriotic–the Fire Balloons! He saw the dim faces of dear relatives long dead and mantled with moss as Grandfather lit the tiny candle and let the warm air breathe up to form the ballon plumply luminous in his hands, a shining vision which they held, reluctant to let it go; for, once released, it was yet another year gone from life, anther Fourth, another bit of beauty vanished. And then up, up, still up through the warm summer night constellations, the Fire Balloons had drifted, while red-white-and-blue eyes followed them, wordless, from family porches. Away into deep Illinois country, over night rivers and sleeping mansions the Fire Balloons dwindled, forever gone…”

Missionaries thought they were going to bring Christianity to the Martians, but they ended up learning from them.

  1. The Last Night of the World Everyone has the same dream about the world ending. It seems so logical that everyone just accepts it.
  1. The Exiles Best bit: “Mr. Poe’s face was weary; there were fire coals remaining, fading, in his eyes, and a sad wildness in the way he talked, and a uselessness of his hands and the way his hair fell lanky over his amazing white brow. He was like a satan of some lost dark cause, a general arrived from a derelict invasion. His silky, soft, black mustache was worn away by his musing lips. He was so small his brow seemed to float, vast and phosphorescent, by itself, in the dark room.”

The thought that authors cannot live beyond their works. When their books were censored and destroyed, the authors would disappear from the face of the Earth.

  1. No Particular Night or Morning Best bit: “‘Why should I hold onto things I can’t use?’ said Hitchcock, his eyes wide, still staring into space. ‘I’m practical. If Earth isn’t here for me to walk on, you want me to walk on a memory? That hurts. Memories, as my father once said, are porcupines. To hell with them! Stay away from them. They make you unhappy. They ruin your work. They make you cry.’”

A man goes crazy out in space. If something is not physically interacting with him he believes it doesn’t exist.

  1. The Fox and the Forest Time travelers try to escape their horrible war-torn world…but it’s not so easy to disappear into the past.
  1. The Visitor Sick people are exiled to Mars and find a man who can hypnotize them to see anything. Their possessive jealousy ends up killing him. No more escapism.
  1. The Concrete Mixer I made a note that I might like this one best. Martians visiting earth are not met with force but invited in. How slothful and unhealthy will they become? How fast will they become dumb like humans?
  1.  Marionettes, Inc. You can buy a look-alike so it can cover at home and work while you live your best life. But what happens when the clone wants you out of the way?
  1. The City A city once destroyed by men lays in wait for revenge. When men come they turn them into robots, load their rocket with disease and send them to Earth.
  1. Zero Hour Another version of kids wanting to kill their parents. An outside force recruits them because no one really pays attention to what they do.
  1. The Rocket How can a poor man afford space travel? Ask Mr. Bodoni.