The Man Who Walked on the Moon by J.G. Ballard
In The Man Who Walked on the Moon by J.G. Ballard we have the theme of identity, despair, longing, fraud, escape and freedom. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Ballard may be exploring the theme of identity. Scranton has made a sparse living by pretending to be an astronaut. It is as though it is the only way he is able to make any money such is the sense of despair in his life (failing health and living conditions). The narrator himself is in a desperate position too with his wife and mother demanding that he do something reasonable with his work as a journalist. However the narrator is more interested in the fact that people believe that Scranton was an astronaut when it can be proved he wasn’t. This does not matter to the narrator as he appears to be able to identify with Scranton’s plight in life. Both men are at loose ends and are reliant on the good nature of others to make it by in life. It is as though the narrator longs to know more about Scranton even if he is aware that Scranton was never an astronaut. If anything the narrator finds Scranton to be fascinating though at the same time he is conscious that Scranton is also a fraud.
It is also noticeable that just as Scranton wishes to escape from the reality he finds himself in. So too does the narrator. It is most likely for this reason that the narrator at first becomes Scranton’s assistant before eventually replacing Scranton and telling people he is an astronaut. Life at home for the narrator is unhappy and if the narrator is to be believed his mother and wife constantly nag him to do something proper with his abilities. As to why Scranton himself chose to change the direction of his life is difficult to say but he may have found it appealing to be a mini-celebrity. To be recognised by others and to receive what can only be described as easy money. This too appears to be the draw for the narrator. He has very little work to do. Stand for a picture to be taken and talk briefly about his imagined landing on the moon. It is a far simpler life than the narrator is presently living.
It also doesn’t appear to bother either Scranton or the narrator that they are lying to people. If anything they may feel as though they are bringing a moment of hope or joy into people’s lives. Though as readers it is difficult to look beyond the fact that Scranton and the narrator are defrauding people. However some critics might suggest that people are easily parted with their money. It is also noticeable that to the narrator Scranton is a business idea. He is not really a friend. It is for this reason that he tries his best to keep Scranton alive and looks after him. Even when Scranton is too ill the narrator still brings him to the café to make money. It is as though Scranton is no longer human but a commodity to the narrator. A commodity that has the possibility to make the narrator money. Easy money at that. There is very little for the narrator to do. He sits Scranton down, waits for the tourists to arrive and takes a picture for the tourists. If anything some might suggest that the narrator’s actions are rather soulless. He is using a man who is ill for his own benefit.
The end of the story is also interesting as the narrator decides to replace Scranton when Scranton dies and he himself becomes the astronaut. Just as Scranton had committed a fraud so too is the narrator. However it is noticeable that the narrator is the happiest he has been for a long time. No longer is he burdened down by his job as journalist or as a son to his mother or a husband to his wife. He has his own sense of freedom. Something that Scranton also had and again the narrator does not really feel as though he is deceiving anyone. He is making people happy even if this happiness is based on a lie. That is not what is important to the narrator. For the narrator he has become someone. Whereas he felt like as though he was a nobody when he lived with his mother and wife. True he is committing fraud but it appears to be acceptable to others. Particularly to the waiters in the café who most likely see the narrator (and Scranton’s) activities as being good for business. However just as Scranton died a lonely death the same faith may await the narrator. By pretending to be somebody else he is deliberately casting aside his real life in order to escape from the monotony of his real life.