The Bittering family -- Harry, Cora, and their three children Dan, Laura, and David -- has arrived on Mars as part of a new 800-person settlement. Originally from Boston, they have moved to Mars via rocket in order to avoid the anticipated destruction from the war that is being waged on Earth. Cora reminds Harry of just that when he wants to return to Earth immediately after stepping off of the rocket when she says, "One day the atom bomb will fix Earth. Then we'll be safe here." While they were all skeptically optimistic about their new life on Mars, they took comfort in the fact that they could buy a return rocket ticket home at any time.
Soon after their arrival, they are no longer able to rely on this option. Laura runs home one day to tell them that an atom bomb hit New York and all of the space rockets were blown up. The family must accept the fact that they are stranded on Mars forever. Devastated, Harry decides to rededicate himself to his plot of land. As he was working in his garden, he begins to notice that things are the "same, but different," such as the peach blossoms, carrots, radishes, and other produce planted in his garden (4.) Harry begins to panic that Mars is changing him and his belongings, and he runs into town to discuss it with the other settlers.
When he arrives in town, the other men are sitting along the street and seem generally unconcerned. They have heard the news that no more rockets will be arriving on Mars, but they are remarkably calm. Harry can also tell that they have begun to be changed by the planet - their eyes are turning gold. When he tells them this and insists that he has blue eyes, they hand him a mirror and he sees dim flecks of old in the blue of his eyes. Harry is very frustrated with them and tries to rally them around the idea of building a rocket together. One man offers to sell him metal so he can build the rocket by himself, which would take approximately 30 years.
Harry begins to work on the rocket by himself while the others watch him, and he refuses to eat any of the crops that he grew in Martian soil. He only eats food from his deepfreeze, which was brought directly from Earth. As he sees the others around him become more accustomed to life on Mars, he works even more fervently on the rocket. Not only does he see them becoming more accustomed to their lives on Mars, but he also sees them changing physically: they are taller, thinner, have a darker skin tone, and have golden eyes.
Harry also begins to notice subconscious changes in himself. For instance, one night he finds himself muttering the strange word "Iorrt." He calls his friend to ask if he's ever heard of the word, and the friend responds that it is the old Martian word for Earth. A few days later, Cora approached Harry and informed him that all of the food from the Deepfreeze was gone. They only had the food that was grown from the Martian soil. She urges him to slow down, rest, and join the family for a swim in the canals. He joins them and reflects on the changes he's been seeing in the people around him, and at the end of the day his son, Dan, asks to change his name to Linnl. Quickly and easily, Harry and Cora agree.
Once they return home, they see an envoy of people preparing to leave town. They are headed towards the villas, where Harry has just left, and he initially insists that he must stay and work on the rocket. But with a little convincing, Harry agrees that it will be more pleasant to spend his summer in the villas, and he will continue to work on the rocket in the fall. As they discuss where exactly they are all going, there is a back and forth over the name of the mountain range - is it the Earth name or the old Martian name? Harry and his family pack up their things and head off, leaving behind many of the things they considered essential when they left Earth.
After the summer, Cora tells Harry that it's time to return to town, but Harry responds, "There's nothing there any more" (11.) He doesn't want to return for his books or clothes, which he now calls by their Martian names. They have both now changed considerably from the people they were when they first arrived. Five years later, a rocket arrived on Mars and men jumped out of it. They yelled out that the war on Earth was over and that they had come to rescue the original settlers. No one heard them though, as no one was in town. One man who was sent to scout the area reported back that he found native Martians in the hills, but no sign of the original settlement. The scout and the rest of the newly arrived men do not realize that the "Martians" they are talking about are the original settlement they were looking for. The captain starts barking off orders for what needs to be done, and his underlings gaze off for a moment, taken by his surroundings, before springing back into action.
This short story is told in the third person, but the majority of dialogue and descriptions involve Harry. Because of this, the reader closely follows the development of Harry as he arrives on Mars and becomes more acclimated with his new home. Even though the entire family is growing accustomed to Mars, it is difficult for the reader to understand how they feel about the changes that are taking place. We only see the more drastic changes in their thoughts and behavior at spaced out points in time, and so it appears that Harry has the most difficult time adjusting to Mars. It is not necessarily true that this is the case, but it appears to be true because of Bradbury's use of point of view.
The process of naming and renaming plays a major symbolic role in the story. The first Earth colonialists have renamed the natural features of Mars, such as the Roosevelt Seas, Ford Hills, and Vanderbilt Plateaus. Renaming colonized land was frequently done by the major colonial powers throughout history. The British are most famous for renaming the cities and streets of their colonies, and it is not uncommon to see a Queen Elizabeth boulevard in Nairobi, Kenya. Naming is deeply tied to identity, and this is seen when Harry begins to lose his attachment to Earth and starts muttering old Martian words. When the "rescuers" come from Earth five years later, they too begin to rename the natural features of the planet to impart their own identities on the land.
The process of renaming brings to light another theme of change, and how it can occur both actively and passively. Harry fears change at first, particularly the change that he does not consent to happening. The change occurs slowly at times, such as the gold glint that enters their eyes or their gradual thinning and stretching into tall, skinny humans. In contrast to this passive change, there is active change as well. Harry and his companions decide to move away from the town, a major change from their reliance on the town and Earth-like life. With this decision, they begin to change even more radically into Martians.
Their active choice for change coincides nicely withe the juxtaposition of acceptance vs. resistance. This debate occurs internally in Harry, where he initially wants to return right away to Earth. He resists the change that occurs within him, and he panics when he sees the changes encroaching upon him. He eventually comes to accept those changes, at the request of his wife. With her encouragement, as well as the encouragement of the other settlers, Harry begins to take time away from the rocket project and spend more leisure time in the Martian countryside.
Lastly, memory plays a very important role in the story. It ties into the ideas of naming, resistance, and acceptance. Renaming the physical features of Mars brings back memories of Earth, which at first the new settlers believe they need to survive on the new planet. They want to remember where they came from, and this want presents itself in ways other than naming - they bring a model of a traditional Boston cottage and all of the American crops that they are accustomed to on Earth. They want to remember their homes and resist forgetting those memories. It is a struggle to remember until they finally accept their new homes, and when they do this they let go of their Earth memories completely.