Thus far in Red Mars, the character I’m most interested in is definitely Arkady; and through Nadia’s section, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with him on more and more things. His perception of art, and specifically the purposeful nature of art, is such a refreshing contrast to Jimmy from Oryx and Crake. He seems like a combination of Jimmy’s artistic obsession and spontaneity with Crake’s single-minded determination. A potent combination thus far; certainly, Nadia’s development as a character progresses much faster once Arkady lands on Mars.
In the beginning of Part 2, Nadia seems to be stuck in her worker-bee bubble, entirely focused on material function and wellbeing, often to the detriment of mental life and engagement—not that she isn’t using her brain, but that she ignores all functions of the human mind without an express purpose in material benefits. She continually refuses to accompany Ann on her trips around Mars, is bored by the intrigue of the colony, and revels in technical discussions, preferring the majority of her conversations to center on work. Her first year on Mars passes in a blur, “always busy,” with no time to explore as “more time passed, more work got done” (117). She gives no thought to her place on a MARS?! of all places, confining herself to the base.
That is, until her hand is smashed. Even then, it takes a surprising amount of persuading by Ann to get Nadia to go. However, at the pole, Nadia finally realizes the incredible impossibility of her situation: “all new, all strange; it was absolutely impossible to compare it to anything she had seen before; and all of the sudden the past sheered away” (142). She begins to understand herself as an agent, capable of incredible thought and action in spite of her continuing material existence as a worker. By seeing her smallness in the Martian landscape, she becomes “a little thinking boulder,” conversely understanding her inner life as being as large (potentially) as a planet.
Nadia takes a particular interest in Arkady’s ideas once he arrives on Mars, realizing that her buildings can serve more than simply material function. Just as he argued in Part 1 for culture-constructing construction, Arkady now gives more concrete form to his ideas for cultural construction: “with these colored bricks, you build walls that are all mosaics” (165). Through building beautiful, artistic structures, Arkady hopes to show “that [they] value more” than the materialistic, utilitarian societies they have left behind on Earth. Arkady’s version of artistic expression not only serves a cultural, spiritual purpose, but also a governing purpose: to throw off the binds of their previous society, creating their own new forms: democratic, leaderless, and apparently, living in perpetual argument.
Arkady’s version of expression and art is difficult to pin down; on the one hand, as Nadia says, “ideas meant so much to him” (187), but on the other, they serve an express political purpose. He embodies both the artistic obsession of Jimmy (not to mention Jimmy’s lack of filter) and the scientific tenacity of Crake. His beauty is purposeful, “power and elegance, right action, form fitting function, intelligence, and reasonability” (187). If he were sneakier, or more eloquent, I would be watching for a homicide-plot; if he were less driven, he would be uninteresting.