Study Guide

The Ear, the Eye, the Arm Freedom and Confinement

By Nancy Farmer

Freedom and Confinement

Tendai listened to the birdsong in the garden. He couldn't ask about the Scout trip now. They were going to spend another long, boring day locked up in the house. All because Father was afraid they would get kidnapped. (1.46)

Ugh. Tendai is so sick and tired of being locked up in the house. Sure, he has a robot to do his chores and another to cook him food, but he wants to be free and roam the city by himself. While other kids his age get more and more freedom, Tendai is stuck at home every single day.

He had never entered a noisy schoolyard. He had never played a team sport or shared a lunch with other children at a crowded table. Father was too worried about his enemies. (2.12)

We totally get wanting to protect your kids from your enemies—but that's not what gets the kids kidnapped. It's their over-trusting nature when they venture off into the city for the first time by themselves. The General means well, but he traps the kids in a state of dependence.

Even Scout meetings were held via holoscreen, Tendai thought glumly. The merit badges were sent by mail. He had earned them all in the garden or at specially fortified places Father trusted. (2.19)

It sounds pretty bad, but then again, maybe the world is a dark, scary place. After all, the kids get snatched the first time they leave the house. Perhaps the General is right that they need to be confined to the house instead of free to go wherever they choose.

Tendai, somewhat regretfully, closed the bird cage and put it into a closet. Well, the mynah was free now, and it hadn't even looked back. (2.87)

Just like the mynah Tendai frees, Tendai wants to fly free from the cage. He can almost feel the wind beneath his wings. It's not until he releases the bird that it dawns on Tendai that the mynah's been trapped this entire time, just like he has. For more on this feathered friend, swing by the "Symbols" section.

It was Tendai's turn to stare into the distance and think. What would it be like to go outside the way everyone else did and fly—all alone, without bodyguards or the police or Father — to a magical place none of them had seen before? As he thought, the warm, excited feeling he had had that morning returned. (3.71)

We'd like to point out that Tendai feels excited and warm at the prospect of his freedom. It seems like something he's been waiting for his whole life. And fears of what the world might have in store for him are far away, and his understanding of freedom is full of idealistic hope. That's what makes it so exciting.

He realized he was happy, and he hadn't known he was sad before. He liked the noise and the smells, both good and bad, and the faces, both innocent and crafty. He liked being surrounded by people. He liked them in all their shapes and dispositions simply because they were people and not machines. (4.65)

When he goes outside, Tendai figures out what this new feeling is: happiness. He didn't feel depressed before, but now he knows that he wasn't exactly happy at home, either. It isn't until he's free in the world to do what he wants that he feels cheerful.

"I know. I know. I meant to give them freedom. You understand how it is. First they're babies. Then, when they walk, you worry about them falling into swimming pools and so forth. It was so easy to keep them here, hire tutors—don't look at me like that! I have lots of enemies." (5.10)

As the General explains his reasoning for confining the kids to the police chief, he realizes he's been too strict. He might want to keep them safe, but confinement isn't the way to do that. It occurs to him that his kids need more freedom at home. Too bad it's already too late for that…

Tendai also saw, in the larger tunnels, a system of rails going off into the dark. An ancient handcar allowed Fist and Knife to move quickly through the system. Clearly, Dead Man's Vlei had been inhabited a long time. He considered using the car to escape but decided he knew too little about the system. There must be miles of tunnels down there, he thought with a thrill of fear. (10.4)

The vlei people are trapped in Dead Man's Vlei—or so Tendai thinks. Later, he figures out that they want to be there and actually respect the She Elephant. Sometimes things aren't what they appear to be, especially when it comes to who is trapped and who is free.

The rage for freedom struck him most forcefully when he was deep underground. It was almost as though a voice called to him: Run! Run now! (12.8)

Tendai knows he won't get many chances to escape, so he has to take his shot while he can. Notice how he says freedom called out to him from inside and encouraged him to do it. It's almost as though freedom itself has a voice here, and it wants Tendai to experience what it means to no longer be trapped.

Arm felt a deep pity for this man who had so much power and yet was utterly helpless to get back the one thing that had meaning for him. (21.22)

The General is trapped in another way entirely: He knows where his kids are, but can't do anything about it. Arm feels for the guy. His hands are tied because of the power that he has in the society. If his kids were anywhere else aside from Resthaven, he'd have authority over it. Irony, anyone?

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