Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Red Planet opens with Jim and Frank paying a visit to their friend Doc MacRae on the eve of their departure for school in Syrtis Minor, a settlement at the Martian equator. Both the school and the settlement are owned by the Mars Company— the organization that headed the original colonizing effort on Mars and continues to control the planet's government.

School proves to be hardly the pleasant experience the boys had expected. The headmaster, Mr. Howe, demands conformity and absolute obedience of his pupils—just as the Company does of the colonists. Jim and Frank soon learn that the Company's plan for Mars will not only whittle away the colonists' liberties and rights, but will actually threaten their lives.

Both Jim and Frank are adventurous, independent, and well-adapted to life on Mars. The only subject on which they disagree is Willis, a childlike Martian creature who repeats, word for word, whatever he hears people say. Jim trusts Willis as a friend and treats him like an intelligent being; Frank considers Willis a pet, an animal with few or no capabilities beyond mimicry. Frank eventually comes to appreciate Willis, but his original doubts reflect Heinlein's belief that hasty judgments are unfair and often dangerous. Jim, too, is often wrong in his analysis of Willis's behavior patterns—not because he is prejudiced, but because he cannot conceive of the kind of life an "alien" might lead.

Since Earth-humans do...

(The entire section is 486 words.)