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|Author:||holmesiv [ Sun Jul 29, 2012 7:12 pm ]|
Having ventured forth into Robert's forum to publish my scattered and no doubt idiotic thoughts, I offer a new essay to my fellow Heinlein fans.
Double or Nothing
Works to be considered in this essay:
“If This Goes On … ,” 1940
Universe, Common Sense, 1941
The Rolling Stones, 1952
Time for the Stars, 1952
Double Star, 1956
Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961
Time Enough for Love, 1973
Throughout his writing career, Robert A. Heinlein made use of twinned characters, sometimes actual twins and at others, manufactured twins.
Heinlein’s main thrust throughout his career was to write fiction concerned with individual responsibility. To some extent, I believe he used twins to illustrate what he believed, though not all use of twins or twinned characters supported that theme.
His first use of twinned characters was in 1940’s “If This Goes On … ,” when the protagonist, a revolutionary spy, is changed through plastic surgery to resemble another character, who plays only a brief part in the story.
Heinlein didn’t make use of the device to say anything, but used it just to move the story along.
But in 1941, RAH wrote a pair of stories, Universe and Common Sense, in which he did begin playing with the notion of using twins to illustrate his theme of individual responsibility.
Joe-Jim is a mutation, two heads on one body. Joe-Jim also is the dominant force in the mutant society he lives in.
Because two minds controlling one body would be an inconvenient way to live, one head usually gives in to the wishes of the other, although sometimes a struggle occurs.
What is Heinlein trying to save about individuality here? I don’t really have an answer.
There’s not a lot of comment about individuality in 1952’s The Rolling Stones. Cas and Pol, as most of the other members of the Stone Family, are used to tell a comic story.
As I stated in another essay, Time for the Stars is Heinlein’s best use of the twin device to push forward his main theme. On Earth, Pat is used to dominating his twin, Tom, going so far as to push Tom out of consideration for a plum assignment in space and then manipulating events so that Tom goes anyway – on Pat’s whim. Pat merely wanted the honor of being selected for the assignment. When push came to shove, he purposely broke his leg so that Tom would have to go into space in his stead.
At one point, Tom appeals to his father to help him get Pat off his back. The father tells Tom that it is his problem. In other words, act like a man.
Pat continues to try to dominate his brother telepathically through Tom’s space journey, but their telepathic bond – and Tom’s dependency on his brother – weaken as the trillions of miles go by. Finally, Tom’s telepathic link is through his great-grandniece, Pat’s descendant.
Tom also learns to grow up on his journey. If I remember the story correctly, he briefly considers joining a mutiny against the captain, but takes the advice of cooler heads.
On his return to Earth, Tom meets his now-aged brother, Pat, and tells him off, then traipses off with his great-grandniece to get married, further flummoxing his twin. Tom has finally asserted his individuality, taken responsibility for his own life.
Double Star, in 1956, deals with an actor, Smythe, who is almost the double, or twin, of a system-wide (Earth, Luna, Venus, Mars) leader of a political party, Bonforte.
Bonforte, the hope of the liberal faction in the system, is kidnapped just before he is to make a great, symbolic step forward in relations with the Martians, who are skeptical of a political alliance with humans. Smythe is convinced to stand in for him during the ceremony, thus helping to cement relations between the two races. He is persuaded to continue the masquerade after Bonfote is rescued. Bonforte was worked over during his kidnapping, and in order to keep everyone else from learning about the deception, Smythe must stand in for him during an election.
It is during this period that Smythe begins to make actual decisions in Bonforte’s place, having studied up on the guy as much as possible. Smythe even challenges the judgment of another character and prevails.
When Bonforte dies, Smythe steps into his shoes, running the party and acting as prime minister for the next several decades. During this time, he “is” Bonforte, for there is no other choice if the forces of reaction are to be held at bay.
The story is about Smythe burying his own personality and letting the personality of the wiser man take over.
Before his adventure, Smythe is a conceited personality and basically a parasite. When he can’t find work as an actor, he haunts bars, trying to con drinks and the price of a hotel room out of people. Smythe is so immature and conceited that he will not stoop to other work to pay his way through life.
But as he absorbs the thoughts and habits of Bonforte, he comes to realize the worth of a life lived for others. He loses his conceit – he loses his own ego – in the attempt to do the right thing for his fellow creatures. This is just as much a Heinlein ideal as the tramp who gave up his life to save another or Johnny Rico putting his life on the line to protect humanity – or Valentine Michael Smith walking into martyrdom.
Heinlein uses twins again in 1961’s Stranger in a Strange Land. The twins in this case are Jill, a nurse and companion to Valentine Michael Smith, and Dawn, a famous stripper. The two become co-head priestesses in Michael’s cult and as they grow in their knowledge of the Martian language, start looking more and more like each other.
I’m not sure what Heinlein’s purpose in twinning Jill and Dawn is; perhaps with further reading, I’ll eventually get it.
Finally, we come to Time Enough for Love and the World as Myth novels, and Lazarus Long’s identical cloned sisters. You could say this group is triplets, but Laz and Lor come off more as each others’ twin because of their apparent age and gender, both different from their cloned brother’s.
Here, Heinlein appears to have abandoned any thought of using twins to explore the concept of individuality, because Laz and Lor appear to have none. They finish each other’s sentences, and express themselves in terms that suggest they are continually stressed out. They do everything together, including having sex with Lazarus.
Again, I’m probably not bright enough to figure out what’s going on, unless RAH is just having fun. But then, I am not the world’s biggest fan of the World as Myth stories, and would have been satisfied if he’d stopped that series at Time Enough for Love.
I’d invite anyone who has any thoughts about Heinlein’s use of twins to comment or submit an essay of their own.
(The title of this essay, Double or Nothing, really doesn't mean anything. I just wanted to use the word "double.")
And lastly, who wants to write something about Heinlein and cats?
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