A Review of Ray Bradbury's, 'I See You Never'
Introduction: Bradbury the Activist
Anyone who is a fan of Bradbury's work will probably attest, first of all, to his writing style. He is clear and precise yet colorful and poetic. His words move dance across the page and sing praises to your eyes, grant hymns to your ears.
His sense of language is cinematic and choice of words all too concise. The fact that he may be writing about science fiction or fantasy escapes you because he is quite literary. And honestly, much of his work was only fantasy in the fact that it was set in the future.
Fahrenheit 451 was a social criticism of censorship and the possibilities of totalitarian governments. Most readers and scholars see the book as literature, the fictional elements that comprise the story as almost irrelevant.
The Martian Chronicles can be seen as a criticism of colonialism on one level, a critique of bigotry and hate on another. Mars just so happens to be the setting, but the story could be placed in 15th Century North America or Africa during some era of great exploration.
Bradbury was a poet, a novelist, a short story writer and a literary critic. He wrote the screenplay for Moby Dick and has authored numerous works of non-fiction, just as pleasurable as his fiction.
If you are fan of Bradbury, you understand how and appreciate the gift that he left us. If you are unfamiliar with him, I hope you take some time to discover him.
I wanted to write about one of his short stories, "I See You Never" because it seems to be a remarkable piece about immigration and the attitudes toward those who come here. There is a lot to be said about this piece and most of the criticism I have come across the short story focus on simple and basic themes such as nostalgia and loss.
The story is about much more.
Mr. Ramirez and Mrs. O'Brian
One of the things that first strikes me about the story, are the names of the characters. Ramirez is a Spanish name, in particular, Mexican. O'Brian is Irish sounding, but more specifically, very American. I am a little curious about the spelling because usually it'sspelled O'Brien. I believe that would be intentionally on the part of Bradbury. Whether to alleviate any specificity that might be confused as an actual reference or for purposes related to creativity is ambiguous. There is the slight possibility that the name was designed as an historical reference to a figure involved in immigration concerns, but I have not taken the time to research this.
The entire story occurs in one setting, the doorway of Mrs. O'Brian's apartment. We are told that she is the landlady of the complex meaning that she is of course a baron of sorts. (And I use that term loosely). Ramirez is a recent immigrant to the United States who was staying on a visa. He is as much as a guest to the country as he is to Mrs. O'Brian's tenancy.
During the war, he had worked at the airplane factory and made parts for the planes that flew off somewhere, and even now, after the war, he still held
Inner Space and Outer Space
In the story, Ramirez stands outside of the residence of Mrs. O'Brian, "walled" in by the two policemen. He notices the tall apartment next door and the clean linen on the laundry lines. The world around Ramirez is pristine and full of promise. Compared to the Mexico O'Brian once remembers visiting with "parched jack rabbits" and "dirt roads and scorched fields", the United States is a welcomed sight.
We are told of the leisure activities that Ramirez enjoyed, riding in the electric streetcars past "sleeping houses and big hotels" and it seems almost magical. Ramirez looks into the room where O'Brian's children are dining - five of them - and Bradbury describes a clean beautiful world. "clean white linen" , a water pitcher filled with ice cubes and fresh cut fruit. Ramirez's apartment itself was a "clean little room, with glossy blue linoleum" and walls with calendars and flowers. This tells us on one level that there is a unique nature in the room but also reminds us that Ramirez is aware of the time and was aware about the limit on his Visa.
We know that he has been in the United States six months too long because his visa was supposed to be for two years and he had been here thirty months. "Six months too long" according to one of the policemen. Compared to the dry, dusty and decaying environment Mexico represents, the housing area Ramirez found with Mrs. O'Brian is a paradise. And he wants to stay.
Your Opinion Please
Are you familiar with Bradbury?
A border town
The major authority figures you are introduced to in the story are two policemen. They don't say much and only one of them speaks and that is to inform Mrs. O'Brian that they were looking for Mr. Ramirez and that he had overstayed his welcome. They are very impersonal and in fact almost seem like slivers of architecture because Bradbury tells us they "wall" Ramirez in.
The other reaction that is described by the policemen is when Ramirez utters "I see you never" and the policemen seem to be responding to Ramirez's colloquialism as well as enjoying their duty. We are told that they smile briefly and then stop "smiling very soon". Ramirez doesn't recognize their emotional response to his plea - either by choice or because he is focused on talking to Mrs. O'Brian. This ambiguity is indifferent however, because Ramirez is not at the mercy of the authorities who don't even seem human in the context of the story.
Mr. Ramirez looked in again at the huge kitchen... He looked at the balconies and fire escapes and back-porch stairs, at the lines of laundry snapping in the wind.— Bradbury
The Golden Apples of the Sun
the pies would come out with complexions like Mr. Ramirez’s, brown and shiny and crisp, with slits in them for the air almost like the slits of Mr. Ramirez’s dark eyes.— Bradbury
The Government and the War Effort
One of the ironies in this story is that Ramirez was contributing to the United State's War effort. " During the war, he had worked at the airplane factory and made parts for the planes that ﬂew off somewhere, and even now, after the war, he still held his job." Bradbury published this story in the New Yorker in 1947 - just after the end of World War II. The fact that the planes are assembled in the factory and flew off to some anonymous place seems to be a bit of an anti-war statement on one level. We see from this passage however that Ramirez mad a contribution by his work in the factories.
As soon as his efforts were no longer needed, the government decided to make sure that his visa directives were followed and that he was to be deported. When he was needed, the government appreciated his stay. He is disposable and like the planes he helped build, must be sent off to some far off land, away from a place where he started to build a home Ramirez managed to maintain his employment after the war ended and really did not make any mistakes other than drinking once a week - which O'Brian seems to believe an acceptable practice. One if neglected his payments on a vehicle and the car was immediately impounded - a situation which many people are familiar with.
The fact that Bradbury seems to mention this fact is because after the War ended, immigration reform became a major issue. There were many people who helped contribute to the efforts - particularly during World War II - of the American military machine. And even Veteran's who are natural born citizens and grew up here will testify to the treatment the government provides those who have helped serve. They are often treated as disposable, and with inhumanity.
For Ramirez, because of his non-citizenship status, these treatments are magnified.
Mexico and WomenClick thumbnail to view full-size
Bradbury's Poetry: American Pastels and Mexican Praries
One of the things that stands out about Brabury's writing is his aesthetics. The literature has a beauty that is conveyed through his unique style and language. If one looks at the description of the domestic environment of the O'Brian household, you see that it is a place where a family is dining at a table that seems almost like a banquet. There are delicious foods and the aromas are delightful, so much so that they attract the attention of the police officers who are handling Ramirez.
The Mexican landscape - the Mexico that O'Brian recalls - is one filled with dead insects and barren towns. The beaches however seem pristine and relaxing compared with the urbanized areas occupied by populations. The cleanliness of the ocean however seems a little absent and disappointing, almost barren: " the ocean beaches that spread hundreds of miles with no sound but the waves —no cars, no buildings, nothing." There isn't much there and the two options available to Ramirez - dusty towns or abandoned seascapes - seem both disappointing compared to the vibrant life in the United States.
The city in the United States is one filled with multi-sensory experiences. There are electric smells and the feel of the wheels. Advertisements that delight the eyes. Restaurants with "many-course meals" to delight the palate and operas and theatres with magnificent sounds. There is a life in the city which seem to represent a new life to Ramirez and for that matter any urban dweller. Compared to the "silent towns" with "warm beer" and "thick foods" the Los Angeles is definitely a paradise compared to Lagos.
Link to the story
- I See You Never
Should immigrants be allowed to enter the United States if they make a contribution
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Finnegan Williams