Study Guide

More Than Human Themes

  • Morality and Ethics

    It's a basic question of all philosophy, literature, and life: What should a person do and why? Contribute to society, serve a deity, maybe sit around all day playing video games? More Than Human takes the question and turns up the volume: the subject of the novel is a life form that's More Than Human, so it wants an answer for more than mere mortals. Anyone who has ever felt different or stuck out from the group may be wondering the same thing. What ethics should be the guide for someone great? This book is not afraid of digging into deep questions about morality and ethics—read it and see what you discover. You might be surprised.

    Questions About Morality and Ethics

    1. How would you explain Lone, Mr. Kew, Gerry, and Hip's philosophies in everyday language to a friend? What real-life examples could you give of someone applying these philosophies?
    2. What's the difference between morality and ethics, according to Hip? Is humanity evolving past old morals and toward new, better ethics, or is it backsliding?
    3. The novel defines bleshing as making parts work together to create something bigger than the sum of themselves. Could groups of any sort blesh the characters' different philosophies together or do some of the ideas not fit together at all?

    Chew on This

    Humanity is indeed progressing ethically as old moral systems fall by the wayside and better ideas are found. Some ethical systems are definitely better than others.

    Moral or ethical systems are matters of opinion, so while you may prefer your own system, you have no right to call it better than someone else's.

  • Memory and The Past

    Life doesn't come with an instruction manual, but More Than Human is sort of an instruction manual for how to deal with troubling memories. In the novel, emotional or intellectual memories are powerful forces characters such as Gerry and Hip have to struggle with. The story sets out the requirements for thinking through memories well. You need someone to listen, you need to relive the experiences in detail, and so on. Bet you didn't know picking up this book would land you a free seat in the shrink's chair.

    Questions About Memory and The Past

    1. Let the therapizing begin. Compare and contrast how Stern treats Gerry and how Janie heals Hip.
    2. Alicia's Dr. Rothstein, Gerry's Stern, and Hip's Captain Bromfield are our three credentialed psychiatrists (Gerry's degree doesn't really count). If you had to rank them, what measure or scale would you use, and who would get first, second, or third place?
    3. These characters make a lot of confident assertions about the nature of memory. What are some of those assertions you disagree with, if any?
    4. Okay, here's the question you may well have expected. Explain why Gerry has the "Baby is three" block and how it fits into the book. Good luck!

    Chew on This

    Thinking through your memories is one of the best ways to grow and evolve as a person.

    Thinking through your memories is overrated. People waste too much time dwelling on the past and need to get on with their lives.

  • Isolation

    Lonely, I'm mister lonely, I've got nobody for my own. Just knowing that a lead character's name is Lone should tell us that More Than Human has definitely got a theme of loneliness and isolation going on. This novel basically says loneliness is an affliction of the soul that must be overcome. It's also the force that draws the main characters together. Let's just say that the Forever Alone meme is super relevant when it comes to this book.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Loneliness mostly hurts these characters, but sometimes it helps them, too. Use examples from the book to discuss the pros and cons of loneliness.
    2. What is the difference between loneliness and solitude? Give examples of each from the text.
    3. Characters such as Hip and Lone persevere in the face of their loneliness. What techniques does the novel seem to recommend for pursuing goals despite lonely feelings?

    Chew on This

    Humans are social animals who require positive interaction with others regularly in order to thrive.

    Humans can get by on their own well enough so long as they have enough independence, confidence, or strength. The ability to "make it" on your own is more important than social skills.

  • Friendship

    Can't we all just get along? More Than Human seems to say so. The novel positions friendship as the opposite of loneliness and isolation—a cure-all to these very human ailments. Sturgeon defines friendship broadly, ranging from camaraderie to consummated (or unconsummated) love to a sort of mutual support called "bleshing." It's a little like food being the opposite of and cure for hunger; you can have plenty of different types of food, but they're all still the same basic solution. Also, we like food. More pizza please.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. What acts of friendship can you find in the novel? There are so many—what sorts of groupings can you place them in? For instance, some involve sharing food. What else?
    2. Lone and Evelyn do not have sex; nor do Hip and Janie. What reasons does this novel give for either pair to simply remain friends instead?
    3. Bleshing is the super-cool form of friendship in the book. What instances of characters bleshing can you find?
    4. Compare and contrast the friendship between Janie and the twins with the friendship or camaraderie between Janie and Lone. Use examples from the text, not examples from Mars.

    Chew on This

    More Than Human takes a romantic view of friendship, seeing the love and belonging it brings as the answer that will bring our society to a higher level.

    More Than Human takes a practical view of friendship, seeing collaboration and amicability as the key to evolving as a society.

  • Identity

    Young people today are arguably more familiar with notions of identity than previous generations, what with all our Facebook accounts, Twitter handles, and the good old-fashioned names that go on our driver's licenses. Still, that might just complicate our notions of identity more than clarify it. Lucky for us, More Than Human studies the concept of identity in detail. In most fiction, characters have distinct identities. Here, several constitute a single life form with its own. The novel also considers the concept in terms of morality and ethics: How does one's own identity determine what he or she should do?

    Questions About Identity

    1. The gestalt life form is compared to a body, musicians, and radio receivers. Can you make your own analogy for it?
    2. Which characters' sense of who they are changes throughout the novel, and which characters feel themselves to have consistent identities? How so?
    3. How does the identity of Homo Gestalt differ from the gestalt that is the subject of the novel?

    Chew on This

    People's identities as individuals are more important than their participations in groups.

    People's participations in groups are more important than their identities as individuals.

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    Who needs a hug? In More Than Human, both exercising and receiving compassion and forgiveness are means by which characters evolve. It's nice of Sturgeon to specify a method of evolution since this is a novel about the advancement of the species through a joint, gestalt life form with mental superpowers, after all. Due to the book's emphasis on compassion and forgiveness, the telepathy of the gestalt has sometimes been called tele-empathy by critics. We think that makes the book tele-tenderhearted.

    Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness

    1. This book makes us hungry. Throughout the novel, characters bond when some provide others meals. What can you say, using passages from the text (as opposed to passages from the opera version, which doesn't exist as far as we know), about the role of food in More Than Human?
    2. Group hug time! Stern and Hip treat Gerry with compassion. Who treats Hip with compassion, and how would you describe that character's techniques for doing so?
    3. Lonely Alicia Kew, amirite? Describe her downfall from dancing Alicia to Miss Kew in terms of compassion and forgiveness, or lack thereof.
    4. How do the Prodds' compassion for Lone and the gestalt members' compassion for one another differ?

    Chew on This

    Hip calls Gerry a monster but is correct to treat him with compassion and forgiveness because the only way for society to progress is through such empathy, even empathy delivered to dangerous people who have killed others.

    Hip calls Gerry a monster and is incorrect to treat him with so much compassion and forgiveness because it's only in fiction that such empathy so frequently causes truly bad people to convert to goodness—in real life, it doesn't work like that.

  • Innocence

    There's innocence in More Than Human, but of what? It's usually connected to seeing the world differently. Characters throughout this novel have especially strange perspectives on the world, and that gives them some leeway when it comes down to reckoning if they are to be considered good or evil. You've got a girl raised not to know sex, a baby that can compute everything, a gestalt life form  made up from some of the strange characters in question, and more. Read on for more about their innocence…or lack thereof.

    Questions About Innocence

    1. Janie calls Hip "prissy." How does that description of him apply to his actions throughout the novel?
    2. Find two links in the text between a character's innocence and a lyrical, poetic passage describing nature's beauty.
    3. Baby defines Lone as an idiot and Evelyn as an innocent. Is this correct, or can you describe Lone as an innocent as well?

    Chew on This

    Mr. Kew's "purity triple-distilled" framework is a good way to assess contemporary society's ethics.

    Homo Gestalt's framework—with its own "multiplicity is our first characteristic; unity our second" formulation—is a good way to assess contemporary society's ethics.

  • Race

    More Than Human was published a year before the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of schools in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. In other words, public schools were still segregated between black students and white students when the novel was written. Its inclusion of black characters, the twins, in the system of main characters, the gestalt, was a big step forward for science fiction as a genre; but, at the same time, Bonnie and Beanie are relegated to playing very small roles. The book makes it clear, however, that all people should be included in humanity, something that won't happen, one character claims, because people have a need to feel superior over others.

    Questions About Race

    1. Can you point to any differences between Bonnie and Beanie, the two black twins? What do the differences or lack thereof say about race in the novel, if anything?
    2. Find any mentions of minorities other than black characters in the novel, be they different non-white ethnicities or individuals with disabilities or non-human animals, and discuss how those mentions relate to the treatment of race in the novel.
    3. Pick out two or three characters who notice race and two or three who do not remark on it. What does that difference say about them as individuals?

    Chew on This

    More Than Human is progressive in its treatment of black characters, given the time in which it was written.
    More Than Human is not progressive in its treatment of black characters, given its use of stereotypes and the minor roles afforded to the twins.