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Stranger in a Strange Land
Stranger in a Strange Land
by Robert A. Heinlein
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Stranger in a Strange Land Theme of Freedom and Confinement

We tend to think of freedom and confinement as opposites—like country and rap music, they just can't share the same space. But in Stranger and a Strange Land, the two are inseparable. Let's take a look: Jubal Harshaw lives in what he calls "Freedom Hall" (10.71), but he is confined to his hermit-like existence if he hopes to truly remain free by his definition of the term. Mike goes out into the world to learn about humanity, but when he exercises his free will and builds the Church of the All Worlds, he has to stay within his inner circle, letting in only a choice few. Likewise, we find the freedom enjoyed by someone in regular society, such as Joe Douglas, to be a myth, hiding the confinement of social mores, cultural habits, and political rules. Is a freedom free of confinement even possible? That's one of the tough questions the novel seeks to answer.

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. Is Mike ever truly free from the constraints of society? Why or why not? What about Jubal?
  2. We usually think of confinement as physical confinement, stuff like going to prison or being grounded to our rooms. While Stranger does consider physical confinement, what other types of confinement does Mike have to fight against? 
  3. Jubal calls his house "Freedom Hall" but says he'll kick anyone out who steps on his toes. So, does freedom have a reasonable cut-off point or does even having a cut-off point mean it isn't Freedom Hall at all?
  4. We discover later in the novel that Mike has the ability to teleport people wherever he wants, suggesting that the Old Ones can do the same and probably better. So, did the Old Ones keep Mike confined as a prisoner by not returning him to Earth? Or did they offer him an opportunity for freedom from human restraints by keeping him on Mars? Whichever one you decide, explain why or why not.

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Mike does not free any of his disciples from the constraints of society. He just creates new constraints for them.

Mike has more freedom on Earth than on Mars because of laughter. It is the best medicine, after all.

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