The Development of Themes to Reveal Aspects of Human Character
Andy Weir’s The Martian


In this literary criticism K.D. examines how Andy Weir utilizes vivid characterization, sentimental dialogue, a dramatic, compelling tone, and style in his novel The Martian to develop themes of isolation, perseverance, and unity, and as a result establishes a focus on the idea that humans possess an innate desire to help each other.


In his novel, The Martian, Andy Weir develops a tone that is not only compelling but dramatic, and that reinforces the characterization of Mark Watney as he experiences a mission unlike any other. As Mark Watney encounters the difficulties that result from his abandonment on Mars, he not only perseveres, but discovers the importance in unity and communication. In his novel, Weir successfully manipulates dialogue in addition to shifts in point of view to illustrate the eager attitudes and inclinations of humans to assist an individual in a life-threatening situation.
First published in 2011, The Martian contains elements of technology from the last decade, and expresses accurate thought processes and concepts of mathematics, science and engineering. Andy Weir’s early exposure to computer science and programming fostered in him an interest in space travel, particularly in the idea of sending a person to Mars. Once a computer programmer at the age of fifteen, Weir demonstrates the ability to persevere in situations that may appear difficult; his ability to address situations as well as discuss with adults at a young age also reveals his understanding in the importance of unity. As a result of his experience and his broad knowledge of math, science, and engineering, Andy Weir is able to develop a sense of realism in The Martian, while enhancing themes of isolation, perseverance, and unity.
Vivid characterization utilized by Weir contributes to developing Mark Watney’s motive which constitutes obtaining communication and survival. While isolated on Mars, Mark encounters numerous predicaments; his determination to not only overcome them but also establish communication resembles his assiduous and diligent character. It is apparent in Weir’s development of Mark’s character that communication is the chief goal for survival. “So that’s my mission now. Find a way to communicate with Earth” (Weir 11). In the subsequent response of NASA to obtain communication, Weir continues to depicts themes of perseverance and unity in the novel. “‘I can’t promise we’ll succeed in rescuing him, but I can promise this: The entire focus of NASA will be to bring mark Watney home. This will be our overriding and singular obsession…’” (62). The eagerness of NASA to support Mark Watney in his survival characterize their natural inclination to do so. Weir’s characterization of Mark as a dedicated and motivated astronaut enhance the themes of perseverance in the novel, while his characterization of the people of NASA enhances the theme of unity as well as develops the idea that humans have an instinct to communicate with one another and assist one another in predicaments such as the one Mark is in.
Weir’s manipulation of puns and humor in his novel characterize Mark as witty and optimistic. Mark’s ability to cope in situations when he is not in communication with Earth resemble his amicable, sanguine demeanour. However, despite Mark’s seemingly optimistic attitude, Weir does develop a somber tone in some parts of the novel, particularly when Mark encounters a problem after just solving one. “Bit disconcerting to hear howling winds when you’re used to utter silence” (155). When Mark encounters an unexpected storm, he expresses the reality of the situation: he is on an isolated planet and continually faces the potential for death. “I’m the first person to be alone on an entire planet” (99). Weir continues to develop a somber tone of abandonment and isolation, and as a result elaborates how communication is a necessity for Mark in his survival. Communication motivates Mark, and once communication is obtained, Mark’s continuation of contacting Earth and establishing plans with them reveal the importance of unifying in his situation. Weir’s manipulation of tone in the novel, both humorous in times of overcoming dreadful situations, and somber in confronting perilous predicaments, develop the themes of isolation and perseverance and establish an importance in communication.
Weir’s style constitutes shifts in point of view to reveal and establish sentiments of several characters. Beginning with a first-person perspective, Weir portrays Mark’s complex circumstance in a way that demonstrates Mark’s dedication and motivation while revealing his genuine feelings in his situation. “I’m sick of being on my own” (306). While Weir successfully conveys Watney’s attitude in his situation, he also sufficiently conveys the attitudes of the Hermes crew and the people of NASA when he creates a shift in point of view to third person. The initial shift reveals the guilt that the Hermes crew experiences initially when they believe Mark to be dead. “They lay in silence, strapped to their couches and ready for launch. Beck looked at Watney’s empty couch and saw Vogel doing the same… Lewis made her way to the flight cabin. She wordlessly strapped into her couch, her face a frozen mask” (141-142). The third-person perspective shift later in the novel also serves to reveal the sentiments that the crew feel after finding out that their crewmate is alive: “Martinez… smiled. Vogel nodded excitedly. ‘I left him behind,’ Lewis said quietly” (145). It becomes evident that the crew experiences a wide range of emotions when finding out that Mark is alive- varying from guilt to thrill as well as happiness for the possibility that their friend may be able to survive his situation. Weir develops these sentiments into a focus later in the novel when the Hermes crew are willing and eager to alter their mission to help Mark. Ultimately, Weir continues to develop the theme of unity in creating shifts in point of view and as a result depicts specifically establishes the natural compulsion of humans to care for one another.
Dialogue is effectively utilized by Weir in his novel to contribute to the idea that humans naturally would like to help each other in troubling situations. It is developed in the dialogue at the beginning of the novel that the Hermes astronauts have a natural inclination to keep each other safe. “‘You really think I’ll leave you behind?’ Martinez said” (Weir 138). Commander Lewis is reluctant to leave Mark behind when they are preparing to launch off of Mars, and the rest of the crewmates are concerned about Commander Lewis not boarding the shuttle on time; it becomes apparent in their dialogue that they are dedicated to keeping each other safe. This is further developed when Weir manipulates dialogue to reveal the exhilaration of the Hermes crew when they receive a possible plan to save Mark themselves. “‘Sign me up!’” Martinez smiled… “‘Let’s do it,’ Beck said…” (211). While Weir’s use of dialogue depicts the nature of humans to assist their friend in a predicament, his choice to not use dialogue in parts of the novel also contribute to illustrating how communication and the natural inclination of humans to help one another is vital. When Watney is alone for a duration of the novel without any contact to Earth, he can only talk to himself. “I just want to go home” (286). By expressing Mark’s thoughts while alone, Weir reveals the emotional state of Mark, and as a result conveys the importance in communication. “‘I’d give anything for a five minute conversation with anyone…” (99). It is prominent throughout the novel that humans need company and communication in order to sustain and have the potential to thrive. With the manipulation of dialogue, Weir ultimately conveys the importance in communication while insisting the necessity of humans to aid one another.
At the conclusion of the novel, Weir cleverly develops the theme of unity in order to emphasize its importance. On the day that Mark expects to be saved by the Hermes crew, it appears as if the entire world is motionless, waiting to hear what will occur. After the maneuver to capture Mark from Mars successfully occurs, he finds himself contemplating on as to how so many people would even fret to think about him or attempt to save him:


“I think about the sheer number of people who pulled together just to save me… and I can barely comprehend it. My crewmates sacrificed a year of their lives… Countless people at NASA worked day and night... instead of giving up, they made another probe to resupply Hermes. The China National Space Administration abandoned a project they'd worked on for years...” (368).


The ridiculous amount of people who assist Mark on his journey to survival demonstrates the natural, raw tendency of humans to help individuals who they do not even know. “But really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes buts it’s true” (368-369). Despite his later acknowledgment that there are humans who are evil and corrupt, Weir clearly states and has argued throughout his novel that the amount of people who posses good-natured qualities far outway those who do not. “Yes, there are people who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do” (369). It is apparent that people have always contained an instinct to assist Mark in someway, and as a result assisted him to survive while he was on Mars. Weir cleverly develops at the conclusion of the novel the theme of unity and as a result demonstrates that people willing to assist an individual in need posses a quality natural to most humans.
In his novel, The Martian, Weir successfully illustrates the strong, daring and clever character of Mark Watney. Providing a tone that clearly demonstrates not only Mark’s struggle but success, and developing a clear theme of perseverance as well as isolation and unity, Weir exhibits the struggle to obtain communication and unity, but the importance in achieving it. Ultimately, through manipulating shifts in point of view in a clever, savvy style, illustrating his characters in a way that reveals their motives and desires, and developing a strong, compelling tone, Weir reveals the reason as to why so many people helped Mark to survive: all humans have a natural instinct to help each other out.
(K.D. 2016)