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Waldo Themes

(Short Stories for Students)

Science and Technology
Ultimately, most works of science fiction deal with the theme of science and technology, and especially with how humanity deals with the technology it has created. In ‘‘Waldo,’’ Heinlein seems to express some concern that humanity is creating technology too quickly and not testing it thoroughly enough. Because of human carelessness, then, technology becomes harmful, causing a physical deterioration of the human race. He compounds this theme with a warning against becoming too intellectual and not balancing both the physical and intellectual aspects of human life. By equating the overly intellectual Waldo with technology (Waldo’s creation of the waldo and his home, Freehold) and then having Waldo become independent of that technology (both his waldoes and Freehold), Heinlein warns against relying too heavily on technology and instead reminds readers to live life without being dependent upon it.

Individual vs. Machine
Heinlein modifies this theme somewhat in ‘‘Waldo,’’ as Waldo really is part machine in the beginning of the story. Since he cannot move easily on his own, Waldo creates machines (which bear his name, further emphasizing his connection and dependence on machines) that will help him manipulate the world around him. He also builds Freehold, nicknamed ‘‘Wheelchair,’’ the space station in which he lives. Freehold has earned its nickname because it is the machine that allows Waldo some semblance of a mobile life; without it, he would be at the mercy of others and essentially motionless. By the end of the story, however, Waldo has freed himself from the waldoes he created, and from his ‘‘wheelchair’’ in order to become his own complete person.

Search for Identity
As in some of his juvenile novels, Heinlein explores humanity’s search for a sense of individuality, a sense of self. Waldo, at the beginning of the story, is hardly distinguishable from his own machines, his waldoes. He is completely dependent on technology to keep him functioning, and so in a sense, his identity is lost in the machines around him. Forced from childhood into a life of physical inactivity, Waldo threw himself into the only activity remaining to him: that of intellectual exercise. However, Waldo the intellectual is only half of a man, and despite his constant posturing to the contrary, he realizes that he is incomplete.

Within the framework of the story, Waldo is both a dancer and a brain surgeon, melding both the physical with the intellectual. By Waldo’s choice of professions, Heinlein emphasizes the importance of this balance between the physical and the intellectual and implies that both are necessary for a person to be complete. Waldo’s search for an answer to the problem of why the infallible fails, mirrors his search for his complete self; he must reach beyond the machines and technology for his own identity, and for solutions to his immediate problem.