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Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Heinlein wrote ‘‘Waldo’’ prior to 1942, the date of its publication in Astounding. He actually did not write new material during World War II, but did publish some material that he had previously written. By the late 1930s and the early 1940s, the Industrial Age was becoming the Technological Age. Progress equaled technology, and Americans wanted to be the most progressive country in the world. As a result, the United States in particular enjoyed a boom period from the development of electricity, up through the development of the microcomputer.

While various technologies were tested for short-term effects on the environment and on human health, little was done to test whether or not there might be any long-term effects from the technologies discovered. For example, X- ray machines were placed in shoe stores in the 1950s because merchants wanted to use the new technology to show their customers how well their shoes fit. It was discovered later that too much radiation was harmful to the human body. Consequently, the Xray machines were quickly removed from the stores. It is this lack of foresight to consider possible consequences of technologies that Heinlein highlights in ‘‘Waldo.’’ How do we really know what the effects of those technologies will be unless we test them over a period of time? Since Heinlein writes science fiction, he sets the story somewhat in the future, which seems to divorce it from a distinct historical perspective, but the concerns of his own time period show through the text itself.

Setting

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

This short novel is largely set in the orbital satellite designed by Waldo. The author took great pains to make every description technically possible, easy to visualize, and "futuristic" from a 1949 viewpoint. The rest of the book is set in a future with many useful machines powered by cheap, clean energy transmitted from orbit.

It is clear that Heinlein was interested with the notion of going into space. Through his writings readers can observe his earnest wish that it could be possible to live and work and travel in space as confidently as did Waldo and many other of his characters.

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
As in many science fiction and fantasy stories, the point of view in ‘‘Waldo’’ constantly shifts from one character to another. The point of view of ‘‘Waldo’’ initially can be identified as Waldo’s, but in the space of a few paragraphs changes to that of Dr. Stevens. By attaching the point of view to a character, an author can place the reader in the story and learn what a specific character thinks and feels.

Many science fiction and fantasy pieces strive to make their characters familiar to the reader since the technology or the land itself might be very unfamiliar (i.e., Mars or Jupiter). By pairing the reader with a particular character for the point of view of the story, the author limits what the reader can know to what that particular character might know. However, if the author wants the reader to know something that the character does not know, he has to become creative in telling the reader that information. In many cases the author will simply imply the information, but this is an unreliable technique. Perhaps the reader will miss a vital piece of data.

In science fiction and fantasy stories, the writer will often change the point of view from character to character in order to reveal necessary material. This method also allows the author to develop characters not only by their actions, but also by how other characters perceive those actions. In ‘‘Waldo,’’ Heinlein shifts his point of view between Waldo, Dr. Stevens, and Doc Grimes in order to give the reader a clearer picture of each man. Waldo seems quite reasonable in his own sections, but when seen through the eyes of Dr. Stevens, he is revealed more as a spoiled child than a slightly eccentric genius. When seen through the eyes of Doc Grimes, Waldo is even more of a spoiled child. Doc Grimes has to remind Waldo of his own selfishness in order...

(The entire section is 2,422 words.)