Study Guide

Stranger in a Strange Land Freedom and Confinement

By Robert A. Heinlein

Freedom and Confinement

"He [Smith] can join us, or have a tray. This is Freedom Hall, my dear. Everyone does as he pleases…then if he does something I don't like, I [Jubal] kick him the hell out." (10.71)

Jubal is freedom incarnate, at least for himself. When you think about it, his freedom only seems to extend to his personal cut-off point. After all, if you express your freedom and do something he doesn't like, he kicks you out of his house. Harsh.

"I just wanted to make clear that I had no intention of meddling with politics to suit romantic notions you or Ben Caxton may have. My dear, I used to think I was serving humanity… and I pleasured in the thought. Then I discovered that humanity does not want to be served; on the contrary it resents any attempt to serve it. So now I do what pleases Jubal Harshaw." (10.95)

Jubal seems to be implying that freedom comes with the price of removing yourself from the game of society, living a quasi-hermit lifestyle like him. It's a lesson Mike doesn't learn come end game.

"A desire to not butt into other people's business is eighty percent of all human wisdom." (18.278)

This is just another way of saying that people are free to do what they want to do. Jubal, naturally, doesn't take his own advice all the time. Oh, and what about that other twenty percent? What do you think that is?

"Because great wealth is a curse—unless you enjoy money-making for its own sake. Even then it has serious drawbacks." (21.151)

Just like the ABBA song, once you get money stuck in your head, you can't get it out. Odd, isn't it? You would think having tons of money would free you from the confines of working. But according to Jubal, you're just confined to making more money. Ah, irony, you delicious, harsh mistress, you.

"Jill, of all the nonsense that twists the world, the concept of 'altruism' is the worst. People do what they want to, every time." (24.17)

Altruism is the idea that someone will act unselfishly, only considering the needs of others. Jubal criticizes this notion. He claims that people will only help others if they want to help others—maybe their reward is that warm, gushy feeling you get when you do a good deed. If this is true, then we can never truly be free of self-interest. What do you think?

Their sins were forgiven—and very little was sinful as long as they supported their church, dealt honestly with fellow Fosterites, condemned sinners, and stayed Happy. (27.124)

The Fosterites have a circular relationship with freedom and confinement. The church's members are free of sin and, perhaps more importantly, the guilt that comes with it. But on the other hand, they are confined to the church and its rules.

"On Mars there is never anything to laugh at. All the things that are funny to us humans either cannot happen on Mars or are not permitted to happen—sweetheart, what you call 'freedom' doesn't exist on Mars; everything is planned by the Old Ones." (29.180)

We laugh at the pain felt by stunts gone wrong on YouTube, if only to keep from cringing in empathy. The Daily Show helps us chuckle at the sad state of affairs the world may find itself in. For Mike, laughter is the ultimate expression of freedom.

"The only religious opinion I feel sure of is this: self-awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together" (33.110)

Usually, Stranger in a Strange Land focuses on issues of freedom and confinement in regard to society and culture, but here Jubal takes a detour. On the issue of nature versus nurture, Jubal sides with nurture or, at least, a mixture of the two siding on nurture. It would also explain how Mike can be genetically confined to being a human, but be free to explore both Martian and human worldviews.

"Mike isn't gentle, Jubal. Killing a man wouldn't worry him. But he's the ultimate anarchist—locking a man up is a wrongness. Freedom of self—and utter personal responsibility for self." (35.143)

This is one of the stickier issues of the novel for many people. Ben is saying that Mike's code does not allow him to imprison people. To confine a man like that is wrong, but if he exercises his free will improperly, then killing him might be an acceptable action. It's shiv or be shivved in the Church of All Worlds. What do you think of this logic? Does it hold up or do you see some problems?

"A person must start with a willingness to learn and follow it with long, hard study. I grok that is salutary" (35.275).

Jubal defines his price for freedom. Only through study and education can someone truly be free from his current circumstances, meaning freedom isn't given away for, well, free.

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