The Martian

The Martian Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Taiyang Shen (Symbol)

"It just goes to show," Teddy said. "Love of science is universal across all cultures."

The Taiyang Shen is a Chinese rocket, part of a planned CNSA mission into outer space. The CNSA graciously donates this rocket to the Americans after the failure of the Iris probe, and the Taiyang Shen brings supplies to the Hermes, to allow it to slingshot back to Mars to pick up Watney. This rocket therefore symbolizes the idea of cultural unity and exchange even between "rivals," as NASA and the CNSA are in the world of space exploration.

"The Mark Watney Report" (Symbol)

This news show dedicated to Watney helps NASA to uphold public support for the mission to rescue Watney, which in turn leads to financial support from Congress. On the one hand it is a symbol for the human need for knowledge, as people are fascinated by Watney's journey and struggles. However, it can also be seen as a negative phenomenon, representative of how modern society creates profit from disaster.

The Media (Motif)

"'Oh no,' Mindy said. 'I might lose my job as an interplanetary voyeur? I guess I'd have to use my master's degree for something else.'

'I remember when you were shy.'

'I'm space paparazzi now. The attitude comes with the job.'"

The media comprises a large part in the novel, such as through the Mark Watney Report that followed his journey, the likening of Mindy Park to space-paparazzi, and the format of the novel itself resembling a diary-style web-log. Everything that occurs in the novel is therefore "mediated," or communicated, to Earth: either via video-feed, or Watney's text exchanges, or third-person accounts of space travel. Of course, all journeys require media—they exist in part because explorers have left behind the communities back to which they report their findings. Watney's journey to Mars, however, is exceptional for its distance from "home," and thus the media necessarily dramatizes and reports on the travails of his time on Mars, creating a devoted following of Watney-supporters on Earth.

Duct Tape (Symbol)

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”

“Also, I have duct tape. Ordinary duct tape, like you buy at a hardware store. Turns out even NASA can’t improve on duct tape.”

Duct tape, on the one hand, is an extremely useful piece of equipment, on Earth or on Mars. Duct tape can be used to improvise all sorts of solutions—especially those that the problem-solver might never have been able to predict. Duct tape's physical usefulness thus also leads into its symbolic value. For Watney has had to "duct tape" together solutions throughout his journey on Mars; he's working without a guidebook, improvising as he goes along. Duct tape might not last forever, and it might not be ideal, but it can get the job done. And Watney's "duct-taped solutions" similarly work, even if they weren't in NASA's plans going into the mission.

The Hab (Symbol)

The Hab symbolizes human ingenuity and "civilization" on the harsh surface of Mars. When the Hab is working well, Watney feels safe; and when the Hab is in danger of collapsing, Watney feels desperately imperiled. Watney does everything he can to make sure the Hab remains a place of safe dwelling on Mars, and he only leaves it when he absolutely must, to make it to Schiaparelli to rendezvous with the Hermes crew.