Study Guide

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Traditions and Customs

By Robert Heinlein

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Traditions and Customs

I wondered about his life expectancy. Tourists often remark on how polite everybody is in Luna—with unstated comment that exprison shouldn't be so civilized. Having been Earthside and seen what they put up with, I know what they mean. But useless to tell them we are what we are because bad actors don't live long—in Luna. (2.18)

Loonies are an very polite people—they don't steal from one another, there is no rape, and they treat each other fairly—but Mannie notes that their traditions and customs are designed because without them, they don't live long. And the threat of imminent death can sure motivate people.

"It's never too late for grief. I've grieved every instant since you told me. But I locked it in the back of my mind for the Cause leaves no time for grief. Mannie, if it would have bought freedom for Luna—or even been part of the price—I would have eliminated Shorty myself. Or you. Or myself. And yet you have qualms over blowing up a computer!" (4.43)

Polite they may be, but they will do whatever necessary to achieve what they feel is the greater good, including killing a friend. Note: When visiting Luna, never be opposed to the greater good.

"My point is that one person is responsible. Always. If H-bombs exist—and they do—some man controls them. In terms of morals there is no such thing as 'state.' Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts." (6.46)

This is key to Luna customs and traditions. Each and every person on Luna is responsible for his or her own actions—whether they punch a guy in the face, follow the law as set by the Authority, or accidently forget where they left their H-bomb. Your act, your choice.

Mum took her in arms, kissed cheek, said, "So glad you could come, Wyma dear! Our house is yours!" (8.48)

Although we don't like to read an author's beliefs into his works, this quote makes us think that Heinlein brought some of his "This I Believe" speech into the Luna traditions and customs. In short, be neighborly, neighbor.

I told conscience to go to sleep. Was pipsqueak compared to swindles by every government throughout history in financing every war—and is not revolution a war? (9.168)

So… two wrongs make a right? That's not the mathematics our mothers taught us. Mannie decides to put his principles aside when it comes to Mike laundering bundles of money.

"All our customs work that way. If you're out in field and a cobber needs air, you lend him a bottle and don't ask cash. But when you're both back in pressure again, if he won't pay up, nobody would criticize if you eliminated him without a judge. But he would pay; air is almost as sacred as women. […]." (128)

The Loonies must be descendants of the Lannisters because they always pay their debts. Of course, it helps that another tradition—killing those who don't pay up—has thinned out the Loonie swindlers.

A cocky chum stepped forward—one who had to be sent for twice. "You can't do this! It's against the law!"

"What law, Gospodin? Some law back in your hometown?" I turned. "Finn, show him law."

Finn stepped forward and placed emission bell of gun at man's belly button. Thumb started to press down—safety-switched, I could see. (14.91-93)

Might makes right, eh? In Luna, you fight for what you believe in, or you move aside for the guy who will.

"They arise, as marriage customs always do, from economic necessities of the circumstances—and our circumstances are very different from those here on Earth. Take the line type of marriage which my colleague has been praising […]. Line marriage is the strongest possible device for conserving capital and insuring the welfare of children—the two basic societal functions for marriage everywhere—in an environment in which there is no security […]." (18.134)

A fascinating part of The Moon is the Harsh Mistress is that it doesn't just create new customs for the Loonies, it questions and considers reasons why those customs might exist. We can take this inquisitive nature into our own customs, too.

Last was an almost-true. Many ladies wanted to do something militant and had formed a Home Defense Guard, "Ladies from Hades." But their drills were of a practical nature—and Hazel was sulking because Mum had not allowed her to join. Then she got over sulks and started "Stilyagi Debs," a very junior home guard which drilled after school hours, […]. (22.13)

The Loonies enter a type of total war, a practice were nearly all the resources and people go to the war effort. This was a strategy of many countries during WWII, so a bit of our history has found its way into this future history.

Like all Loonies, we conserve our dead—and am truly glad that barbaric custom of burial was left back on old Earth; our way is better. But Davis family does not put that which comes out of processor into our commercial farming tunnels. No. It goes into our little greenhouse tunnel, there to become roses and daffodils and peonies among soft-singing bees. (25.38)

Like marriage customs, death customs are determined for unique reasons in each culture. It's been that way since the Neanderthals. Mannie knows why his customs exist, but do you know why your culture buries the dead as it does?

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