Study Guide

Stardust Freedom and Confinement

By Neil Gaiman

Freedom and Confinement

"The chain? It binds me to the stall. I am the personal slave of the witch-woman who owns the stall. She caught me many years ago […] luring me on and on in the form of a pretty frog always but a moment out of my reach, until I had left my father's lands, unwittingly, whereupon she resumed her true shape and popped me into a sack." (1.137)

This is Lady Una's story of how she became a slave. It stinks that she never got to have a real childhood, and instead was captured at a young age and forced into a life of servitude. The only good news is that it's not going to last forever. 

"I gain my freedom on the day the moon loses her daughter, if that occurs in a week when two Mondays come together. I await it with patience." (1.139)

When the slave girl describes the conditions of her freedom to Dunstan, it probably sounds like nonsense to him (it sure does to us). But that's part of the magic of Faerie: Even nonsensical things might manifest magically or metaphorically someday. She's not doomed to be a slave forever, even if it'll take a while for these things to come about.

"I should not mind it, for it is a long, long chain; but the knowledge of it irks me, and I miss my father's land. And the witch-woman is not the best of mistresses […]" (1.187)

Here, the slave girl confesses to Dunstan that she's really unhappy as a slave (surprise, surprise). She lets down her guard enough to start crying around him, which <em>is</em> a surprise since otherwise she seems pretty in control of herself and her feelings. Being a slave for so long must help her keep up a convincing act.

"Should we run?" […]

The little man shook his head. "Not much point," he said. "We've walked into the trap, and we'll still be in it even if we runs." (4.67-68)

Tristran and the hairy little man walk right into the serewood without realizing that it's a trap. You want to talk freedom and confinement? Let's talk about a grove of trees that is basically a giant Venus flytrap, with the goal of ensnaring its dinner and picking the bones clean.

And with that he unwound one end of the silver chain and slipped it around the girl's slim wrist. He felt the loop of the chain tighten around his own. She stared up at him, bitterly. (4.267-268)

Tristran captures the star with a magical silver chain—and as soon as she realizes what he's done, her hatred for him grows. Of course, Tristran doesn't see her as a person yet, so he probably doesn't think of his action as enslaving her, like, for real. It's a temporary thing, just so he can show her off to Victoria. Like you do.

Inside, he felt numbed and foolish, stung by a pang of guilt and shame and regret. He should not have loosed her chain, he should have tied it to a tree; he should have forced the star to go with him into the village […] but […] if he had not unchained her then, he would have done it sometime soon, and she would have run from him then. (5.150)

Tristran releases the star from the chain in order to get some food so he doesn't starve, and he's somehow surprised that she uses this chance to run away. She hated being bound to him by the chain, so we're guessing stars don't do well in confinement. We wonder if things would have gone differently if Tristran hadn't been so quick to treat her like an object rather than a person.

And then the leaves formed a fierce, low voice, which said, "If you had kept her chained, and she had escaped her chains, then there is no power on earth or sky that could ever make me help you." (6.31)

The copper beech tree has some pretty strong feelings about forced confinement based on her run-in with a prince back when she was a nymph. That dude didn't respect her boundaries at all, and so her last resort was to turn into a tree in order to escape his advances. Now she's in a position to help Tristran, so it's good that he wasn't a jerk about keeping the star chained up.

The star let go of the chain. "He once caught me with a chain much like yours. Then he freed me, and I ran from him. But he found me and bound me with an obligation, with binds my kind much more securely than any chain ever could." (10.27)

Here, Yvaine is talking to Lady Una, who is not yet freed. Yvaine compares and contrasts the chained-up kind of confinement with the bound-by-obligation kind of confinement. The former is less binding than the latter, at least if you're a star.

"Then I desire that you should marry Mister Monday." […]

She exhaled in one low shuddering breath of release. (10.87-88)

When Tristran frees Victoria from her vow to fulfill his heart's desire (which, it's implied, is to marry her), she is <em>so</em> relieved. Like, super relieved. We learn that she's loved Mr. Monday all along, and she feels badly for stringing Tristran along and sending him off to possibly get injured or die.

"There," said the woman with the dark, curling hair, stretching like a cat, and smiling. "The terms of my servitude are fulfilled, and now you and I are done with each other." (10.160)

Freedom at last for Lady Una. She seems pretty happy right here, eager to live her life as a free woman, no longer a slave. Her captor, Madame Semele, is less thrilled about this, since she's now on her own to manage her caravan and sell her wares.