Throughout history, many people have tried to limit knowledge in order to oppress or shield from danger a group of people. This dangerous scenario becomes reality in “Usher II”, by Ray Bradbury. In “Usher II”, the government has banned most books by burning them and are now implementing this policy on Mars. However, one brave soul, William Stendahl, stood up to the book burners and proves that ignorance is fatal. “Usher II” demonstrates that limiting the knowledge of a group of people by burning the main source of knowledge precludes the advancement of society and can be fatal. Various aspects of the story such as the ignorance of Garrett, the three aspects of the setting, and the humorous but dark tone demonstrate that censorship is a danger to society.
Character development is crucial in the development of the theme. The main antagonist, Garrett, is naïve and is only focused on destroying the house. When Garrett comes for the party, he does not understand the literary allusions behind the guest’s deaths. He is completely ignorant of the deaths unfolding before him and believes that only the robots are getting killed. Once Stendahl brings Garrett down to the catacombs, red lights should immediately flash, warning Garrett that following Stendahl might not be a smart idea. Stendahl even asks Garrett if he recognizes what he is about to do and when most people would run away at that point, Garrett stills stumbles around dumbfounded, allowing Stendahl to chain him to the wall as in “Cask of Amontillado”. Before Stendahl leaves Garrett to die, Stendahl tells Garrett “you took other people’s advice that [Mr. Poe’s books] needed burning. Otherwise you’d have realized what I was going to do to you when we came down here a moment ago” (Bradbury 156), proving that Garrett’s ignorance is the cause of his death.
A setting can be defined as the location, time, and mood of a story. In “Usher II”, all three aspects of the setting help to support the theme. First of all, the location of the story, the house, is full of literary allusions that any educated person should know. The house is also dark, bleak, and creepy, foreshadowing the gruesome fate of the book burners. The site of the location causes the reader to muse about the fate of the people who limit the knowledge of other people. In addition, the timing of the story, thirty years after all of the books have been burned, affects the theme of the story. Since all of the books have been burned thirty years before the story, it can be inferred that the book burners are not aware of the literary references in the house. The book burners are depicted in a negative way, so Bradbury is saying that being ignorant limits the knowledge of people. Finally, the mood, the emotions a reader feels while reading “Usher II”, is threatening. Bradbury threatens people who wish to limit knowledge by burning books by showing that censorship leads to ignorance and that “ignorance is fatal” (Bradbury 156). A reader could feel threatened by the scenarios that could happen if censorship occurs. All aspects of the setting, location, time, and mood, demonstrate the theme that limiting knowledge is a danger to society.
“Usher II” is one of the few stories in The Martian Chronicles that have a humorous tone, specifically a dark humor. The tone is demonstrated by the comical deaths of the book burners, each an allusion to one of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories. No educated person will die in the way the book burners died because an educated person would be smart enough not to fall into the very obvious traps that killed the book burners. The humorous deaths of the book burners and Garrett demonstrate that if one does not have sufficient knowledge, then they are susceptible to those same comical deaths. The comical deaths are a warning to people since they could end up with the same fate if they are not educated. If society was filled with people without knowledge, then this humorous scenario is a possibility that could happen. While the humorous scenario that happened to the book burners is unlikely to happen today, Bradbury warns that this scenario could become a reality if the government limits the knowledge of the people.
The flawed characteristics of Garrett, the unique setting, and the darkly humorous tone help establish the theme, which is that limiting knowledge of people through censorship is a danger to society. The clever tactics of Stendahl prove that people who are limited in knowledge are susceptible to inopportune events. The book burners and Garret are unaware of the literary allusion Stendahl uses to kill them and fall victim to it. In the wider world, “Usher II” serves as a precautionary tale to prevent governments from taking away the knowledge of the people.
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