Study Guide

Little Brother Freedom and Confinement

By Cory Doctorow

Freedom and Confinement

Chapter 4

She'd told me what my path was to freedom ­­ to the world, to my parents ­­ and that had given me hope. Now she'd threatened to send me away, to take me off that path, and my hope had crashed and all I could think of was how to get back on it. (4.25)

Marcus thinks that getting out of this prison will make him free, but this isn't really possible given the state of the country since the Bay Bridge bombings.

Chapter 5

It was dark and quiet in the house, but it wasn't a comforting dark. There were eyes out there, eyes and ears, and they were watching me. Surveilling me. The surveillance I faced at school had followed me home, but this time, it wasn't just the Board of Education looking over my shoulder: the Department of Homeland Security had joined them. (5.112)

What's the relationship between freedom and surveillance?

Marcus Yallow

"I want us to fight back," I said. "I want to stay free so that I can do that. If we go out there and blab, they're just say that we're kids, making it up. We don't even know where we were held! No one will believe us." (5.48)

Marcus's will to try and change the system leads to Xnet, jamming, and a whole movement. It just takes one to start something big.

Chapter 6

[the Turk:] "You think it's no big deal maybe? What is the problem with government knowing when you buy coffee? Because it's one way they know where you are, where you been. Why you think I left Turkey? Where you have government always spying on the people, is no good. I move here twenty years ago for freedom ­­ I no help them take freedom away." (6.12)

The Turk's coffee shop no longer takes credit cards because the owner doesn't want to help the government spy on people. What other examples of people taking a stand to keep freedom alive can you find in the novel?

Chapter 7
Marcus Yallow


[Marcus:] "You'd think Van, of all people, would understand." Half of Van's family lived in North Korea. Her parents never forgot that they had all those people living under a crazy dictator, not able to escape to America, the way her parents had.

Jolu shrugged. "Maybe that's why she's so freaked out. Because she knows how dangerous it can get."

I knew what he was talking about. Two of Van's uncles had gone to jail and had never reappeared. (7.100-102)

Having lived under the repressive regime of North Korea, Van's parents (and Van in turn) are less likely to rock the boat than Marcus or Jolu. They know how easily government power can turn to abuse, and they'd rather keep a low profile.

What you can do is find out who is sending way, way more encrypted traffic out than everyone else. […]

This happens all the time in China. Some smart dissident will get the idea of getting around the Great Firewall of China, which is used to censor the whole country's Internet connection, by using an encrypted connection to a computer in some other country. Now, the Party there can't tell what the dissident is surfing: maybe it's porn, or bomb­making instructions, or dirty letters from his girlfriend in the Philippines, or political material, or good news about Scientology. They don't have to know. All they have to know is that this guy gets way more encrypted traffic than his neighbors. At that point, they send him to a forced labor camp just to set an example so that everyone can see what happens to smart­asses. (7.80-81)

Governments who don't believe in freedom frequently seem to send their citizens to terrible places for punishments.

Chapter 9
Drew Yallow

[Drew, Marcus's dad:] "What's the big deal? Would you rather have privacy or terrorists?" (9.37)

Is this really an either/or scenario? Is there a way to have privacy and fewer terrorists?

Chapter 11
Ms. Galvez

[Ms. Galvez:] "The students at Berkeley sent a steady stream of freedom riders south, and they recruited them from information tables on campus, at Bancroft and Telegraph Avenue. You've probably seen that there are still tables there to this day.

"Well, the campus tried to shut them down. The president of the university banned political organizing on campus, but the civil rights kids wouldn't stop. The police tried to arrest a guy who was handing out literature from one of these tables, and they put him in a van, but 3,000 students surrounded the van and refused to let it budge. They wouldn't let them take this kid to jail. They stood on top of the van and gave speeches about the First Amendment and Free Speech. (11.112-113)

Freedom riders in 1961 furthered desegregation in the United States. Some riders' buses were attacked by mobs and burned; hundreds of riders were arrested. You can see some of their mug shots and learned what happened to them here.

Chapter 20
Marcus Yallow

[Marcus:] "You can't get anything done by doing nothing. It's our country. They've taken it from us. The terrorists who attack us are still free ­­ but we're not. I can't go underground for a year, ten years, my whole life, waiting for freedom to be handed to me. Freedom is something you have to take for yourself." (20.102)

Marcus has been thinking about what freedom means for hundreds of pages now. What do you think about his point of view?

Chapter 21
Marcus Yallow

[Marcus:] "I decided that I couldn't run. That I had to face justice ­­ that my freedom wasn't worth anything if I was a wanted man, or if the city was still under the DHS. If my friends were still locked up. That freedom for me wasn't as important as a free country." (21.60)

Lots of people fight for freedom everyday where they live. What are some freedoms that people fight for that aren't mentioned in Little Brother?

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