Study Guide

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Themes

  • Freedom and Confinement

    We hear the words freedom and liberty all the time. Politicians can't go two whole sentences without using one of them, newscasters often speak about countries where citizens lack freedoms, and history lessons are full of cool quotes about the subject. Yet, as sought after and loved as these ideals are, how do we know when we've obtained them? Can we say we have liberty if the government tells us how much money we must provide it through taxes? Can we say we are free if we cannot marry whom we wish?

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress provides a potential answer to these types of question, suggesting that government interference in the lives and businesses of individuals limits freedom and liberty. Will you agree with this answer? Let's discuss it and find out.

    Questions About Freedom and Confinement

    1. Do you think the Loonies ultimately achieve freedom and liberty by the end of their revolution? Why or why not? Use examples from the text to support your answer.
    2. What qualities does the novel believe are necessary for true freedom and liberty? Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?
    3. What character would you say stands for a true form of freedom and liberty? Why? On the flip side, what character would you say stands for restricting freedom and liberty? Why?

    Chew on This

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress sees economic freedom as the crème de la crème of freedoms since it ties all other freedoms—such as freedom of speech—to it.

    The average Loonie does not gain additional freedom as a result of the revolution.

  • Philosophical Viewpoint: Libertarianism

    Libertarianism is like the Baskin-Robbins of political philosophies: There are more than thirty-one flavors to choose from, and some combinations taste better together than others. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has certainly crafted its own unique libertarian sundae. It borrows points from anarcho-capitalism and fiscal libertarianism, while giving shout-outs to thinkers of classical liberalism. All of this comes with the cherry on top of Professor Paz's one-of-a-kind philosophy of Rational Anarchist.

    Given this breadth, we're going to stick to showing you where the novel espouses the key tenants of libertarianism: free market, personal choice of lifestyle, and limited or no government authority. By doing so, we hope to show you how the novel became so influential to key libertarian thinkers, especially in the United States (Source).

    Questions About Philosophical Viewpoint: Libertarianism

    1. Read Professor Paz's description of a Rational Anarchist (6.43). Do you believe this political philosophy will ultimately help Luna's society or do you find some issues with it? Why or why not?
    2. Which character would you say is the most libertarian in the novel? Why? Give examples from the text to support.
    3. Prof asks Wyoh, "Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?" We humbly extend this question to you.
    4. This cover for the novel claims it is the tale of libertarian revolution. Do you think the revolution really fights for libertarian values? If you need a brush up on libertarianism, check out this handy little guide.

    Chew on This

    Luna's libertarian society strays from traditional libertarianism in several key aspects. Most importantly, their tendency to teach lessons with violence conflicts with a traditional libertarian views of individual rights (called the Non-Coercion Principle). As the libertarian saying goes: "Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins."

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress helps dispel several misunderstandings about libertarianism. For example, while libertarians view economic policies in a conservative light, this does not make them conservative. As evident by the novel's exploration of line marriages, libertarians often view private affairs with a more liberal approach.

  • Rules and Order

    Here's the thing about rules: They can be pretty weak. Okay, we're not telling you anything new, are we? We're sure you've been in a situation or two when a rule said you had to do something you didn't think was right or correct. Chances are you didn't create the rule, either—someone who likely claims to know better than you did. But why should someone else be allowed to create the rules for you? If you've ever asked this question, then The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is for you.

    This novel questions the legitimacy of society, especially government, having the power to enforce rules on everyone, and suggests that only an individual can create his or her own rules. But what happens when the government creates rules for individuals and those rules don't work out? That is what revolutions are for.

    Questions About Rules and Order

    1. What is it about the Lunar Authority's rules that the Loonies disagree with? Do you think these are legitimate arguments? Why or why not?
    2. What character do you feel creates the most rules for other people? How do you read this character's role in the novel?
    3. Do the Loonies revolt against any rules that you think actually make sense? If yes, which ones and why do you think they make sense? If no, then explain why you think these rules should not be enforced.
    4. Consider a rule from your own life, and make sure it's one imposed on you by an authority figure. Do you agree that this person should have the right to impose that particular rule upon you or not? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    Under Prof's leadership, the Luna Congress attempts to pass several laws and regulations, but we only see them pass the Luna Declaration of Independence. It's the novel's way of hinting at the true purpose of a government body such as Congress.

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress seems anti-law at first glance, but in truth, it is saying any law can be perfectly acceptable, so long as each individual person chooses to follow that law of their own volition.

  • Traditions and Customs

    If you've ever been to a country that isn't your native one, you might have experience something called culture shock—you know, the jittery, agitated feeling one gets when everything around them is suddenly different. Ever found yourself in another country's bathroom wondering how to use the toilet? Then you've experienced a mild form of the phenomenon.

    As awkward as culture shock may be, people who manage to overcome it often confess to learning to appreciate the uniqueness of the human experience, and also to considering their own culture more critically. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is basically a dose of culture shock found at your local library. The Loonies' traditions, customs, and principles will jar you at first—it can be a trippy trip—but as you explore the novel, you'll find yourself questioning your own social norms. And it's good to question things from time to time, Shmoopers.

    Questions About Traditions and Customs

    1. Which Loonie custom makes the most sense to you? Would you like to see that custom implemented here on Earth? Why or why not? While we're at it, which Loonie custom makes the least sense to you? Why do you disagree with this custom and what would you consider a better alternative?
    2. Mannie argues that Luna society has replaced written laws with customs derived from natural laws. Do you think this is a good idea? Why or why not?
    3. Take a custom from your own family or culture. How and why do you think this custom has evolved given your culture's history, environment, and values?

    Chew on This

    On Luna, customs take the place of laws, improving on law by being derived from natural law instead of anything written.

    Luna customs have the concepts of free market and family equally at their core.

  • Technology and Modernization

    Science fiction often depicts technology turning on humans, but this wasn't always the case. In the genre's golden age, technology and modernization were generally viewed as a beneficial force that would ultimately save humanity from itself. Yay technology. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress follows this rosy, golden view.

    The super computer Mike, the hi-tech-honcho, allows individuals like Mannie and Prof to go toe-to-toe with larger-than-life government entities such as the Lunar Authority. Technology gives the everyman the power to do extraordinary things, so long as he uses that power for good, and not just for creating Internet memes.

    Questions About Technology and Modernization

    1. How do you see technology being used by the characters? What does this tell us about technology's use in human society?
    2. Are there any moments when technology fails the Loonies? If yes, then how do the characters react and what does this say about this theme? If no, then what does that tell you about this theme?
    3. Mannie is obviously the most tech savvy of the bunch. Based on his character, what do you think the novel suggests the value of understanding technology is? Any detriments?

    Chew on This

    Mannie is the guy who wins the day for the Loonies, not because he's a warrior or a great speechmaker, but because he can use technology like a pro.

    Technology not only makes life easier on Luna, it is essential to even being able to live on the Moon in the first place—although the same could be said for life on Earth if you're human.

  • Violence

    There is no such thing as a bloodless revolution. The Bloodless Revolution of 1688, a.k.a. the Glorious Revolution, was misnamed—soldiers did die, albeit very few. Even the Coldplay song "BloodlessRevolution" had some of its listeners bleeding from the ears.

    In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,the insurrection on Luna is no exception, joining the long list of not-so-bloodless revolutions. Importantly, though, Luna is a society of violence even before the revolution. Duels are a way to settle Loonie debates, and men can kill each other without repercussions so long as the victim has it coming. Violence is simply a fact of Luna life, and any act of violence seems justifiable within Luna customs—so long as it is committed by a Loonie, that is.

    Questions About Violence

    1. The novel depicts Luna as a place where violence is only used justifiably. Do you agree that a society like Luna would have such a pristine track record? Why or why not? Is Luna's track record as pristine as the Loonies think it is?
    2. Whom would you say is the most violent character in the novel? What do this character's actions tell you about this theme in the novel?
    3. In a novel full of violent acts, is any violence seen as completely horrible? If yes, what act and what does this tell you about the theme? If not, then what does this tell you about the novel?

    Chew on This

    Despite a society where violence is the norm, the Loonies attempt to wage as blood-free a war against Earth as possible by launching rocks into uninhabited zones. In doing so, they are trying to respect Earth's rules on violence rather than their own.

    The major source of violence on Luna is not the Loonies, but the environment.

  • Women and Femininity

    Oh boy, here we go. The issue of ladies and femininity in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress—or any Heinlein novel for that matter—makes for a debate that can include thoughtful analysis, forum flame wars, and everything in-between. Some people think Heinlein's female characters are often put in the background, but believe they play important roles and are strong characters all the same, while others think Heinlein attempts to imagine women's liberation but doesn't quite figure it out. Still others see Heinlein as playing a shell game with the novel's female characters, claiming they are independent when in practice they are anything but. What do you think?

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. Read the reviews of Heinlein's works linked to above. Which analysis do you see as best fitting the novel? Why? Which do you least agree with? Why?
    2. Do you see women in Luna society as exhibiting the same power in society as their male counterparts? Why or why not? Give examples, please.
    3. The line marriage is seen as beneficial to women in Luna society. Do you agree with this idea? Why or why not? Turn to the text to support.

    Chew on This

    Even in its title, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress fails to recognize women as truly autonomous beings—mistress is a relational term, after all.

    Timing is everything, and if The Moon is a Harsh Mistress comes up short on the feminism front, this is only because it was written in 1965, when women's lib was a much newer phenomenon.

  • Manipulation

    In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, profit comes from about every form of manipulation you can imagine: propaganda, coercion, money laundering, voter fraud, and just flat out lying to round things out. Surprisingly, it's not so much the Lunar Authority who deals in manipulation, but our revolutionary heroes, especially Mike and Professor Paz, who manipulate the very people they claim to be fighting for.

    So what's the novel trying to say about manipulation if it is present on both sides of the conflict coin? Is it saying that manipulation is necessary to survive? That he who manipulates best ultimately wins at life? Or that politics corrupt absolutely? We're not sure what the answer is, but we're sure the discussion will be fun all the same.

    Questions About Manipulation

    1. Do you think the Prof and Mike's manipulation of Luna society—such as propaganda and money laundering—is ultimately justifiable? Why or why not?
    2. Which character do you think is the most manipulative? What does he or she tell you about this theme in the novel?
    3. How does the Chairman try to manipulate Mannie? How does Mannie manipulate the system for his own benefit? Comparing and contrasting these two characters, how does this affect your understanding of this theme in the novel?

    Chew on This

    The Luna Revolution is won through politics and combat, in both cases thanks to the art of manipulation.

    The average Loonie does not gain additional freedom as a result of the revolution. Because of Mike and Prof's manipulation, only the revolutionaries at the top actually receive more freedom.