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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 702

The underlying subject of The Lone Sentinel is the balance between conformity and individualism. Until his father is killed in a fall from the tower, Erik has never deviated from the rules set out in the Trust Control Manual. Just as he has modelled his speech on the patterns of...

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The underlying subject of The Lone Sentinel is the balance between conformity and individualism. Until his father is killed in a fall from the tower, Erik has never deviated from the rules set out in the Trust Control Manual. Just as he has modelled his speech on the patterns of the Say It Right videos supplied by Trust Control, Erik has unquestioningly adopted the code of civilized, responsible behavior followed by his father and grandfather, both of whom were "caremen." His father's death poses a dilemma for Erik, however, because he is unwilling to leave his lifelong home and he doubts that either he or his dog Thursday will be comfortable in the urban setting of New Province. As a result, he breaks two major rules: He fails to report his father's death, and he attempts to maintain the sentinel alone. Erik believes that his conformity to procedural details may partially compensate for these lapses, but he knows that really his actions are wrong, and he comes to regard his disobedience as an underlying cause of the later problems at Lone Sentinel.

Erik also faces the universal problem of distinguishing between unthinking adherence to traditions which may have lost their meaning and faithful obedience to important rules—even those which appear impractical or unreasonable. Because of his youth and inexperience, Erik is slow to suspect that the renegade alien Maag is evil, and he rebukes Augusta, the runaway who appears at his doorstep with her twin sister, for questioning the actions and motives of a Helgatite. Already exceptionally responsible beyond his years, Erik must learn to think for himself and to get along with other people. One part of his social education is to develop the ability to detect deceit and treachery in others.

Just as Erik needs to develop individualism, Augusta needs to learn conformity. She is extremely impatient, reluctant to observe the established practice of the careman's one-year "detachment" from the news, and willing to disregard any rule which prevents her from immediately achieving what she desires. To her, the story of the Helgatites' saving her people is "ancient history", and she does not feel obligated to acknowledge their innate superiority or to treat them with any special respect. Where Erik tries to map out strategy as carefully as in a chess game, she acts impulsively—e.g., in fleeing New Province, in insisting that Maag cure Willa, Augusta's twin sister, and in decoying the Duvean pod away from the supplier's shack. Further, as a result of her experience with foster families in New Province, Augusta has become cynical and defensive; she distrusts everyone, believing she can rely only upon herself and her twin sister. As a result, she pushes Erik to recognize that if Maag's explanations seem unreasonable, they may be false, and if customary procedure does not work, it may be time for unconventional action.

For Erik and Augusta, stable family life is merely a memory. Significantly, both are orphans, but the loss of their parents has affected them somewhat differently. Erik has become more cautious and more meticulous about detail; Augusta has become more reckless and more independent. Each clings, however, to remaining family ties. Augusta is determined that she and Willa will not be separated; regardless of the rules she must break and the dangers she must face, she will not allow anyone to take Willa away. Erik displays a similar fierce loyalty to his dog Thursday and to his home at Lone Sentinel. In both cases that loyalty is rewarded: Augusta and Willa are not separated, and Thursday accompanies Erik for his sojourn, presumably brief, in New Province.

Everyone returns to some type of conformity at the novel's end. Willa has been cured. She and Augusta are happily returning to New Province to live with their uncle. Erik, too, is going to New Province to stay with this family, and he is accompanied by a stoutly leashed Thursday. Wayne Burdick has assumed parental responsibility for his nieces and for Erik. In short, the Helgatites have corrected all ills. Even the Trust Control has become less rigidly authoritarian, calling Erik by his name and acknowledging that some improvements in their procedures are possible and probably desirable.

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