Friday by Robert A. Heinlein is a novel about a genetically modified human named Friday Baldwin who is an artificial being. Friday acts as a self-sufficient “war messenger” for a clandestine private entity that is part spy agency, part militia organization, and part think tank. She is an artificial human (AP) developed in a lab by genetic engineers using DNA samples from different donors to create an enhanced being. Friday now has greater speed, stamina, endurance, hearing, resistance to illness, and other advantages as a result of this. The story is about Friday’s quest for self-acceptance and to finally have a family of her own who is not prejudiced by the fact that she is an artificial person.
The central theme of the book is racism and prejudice against artificial persons who are also the target of discrimination and not considered human by the majority of the people. Most of AP spend their lives in a kind of indentured servitude, some being designed for specific types of jobs. A few manage to get free and live their lives in secrecy by passing themselves as “normal” human beings. Friday is one such, and she struggles to find acceptance and a place where she belongs. And this is one of the book’s major themes: a dissection of discrimination and the ignorance that drives it.
Friday is damaged by racism. The bigotry against the Artificial Person is a type of all bigotry — racism, anti-Semitism, anti-feminism, homophobia, and the psychological damage is carried by self-hatred internalized.. In the early part of the book, Friday enforces the nobody-could-love-me-because-I-am-an-Artificial-Person attitude she accepts without questioning or examination, and despite all evidence to the contrary. Gradually she comes to realize that the evidence is contrary to the attitude and moves her psychological commitment over to the evidence — a process that forces her to abandon the internalized rule of bigotry against the Artificial Person.. The AP prejudice is symbolic of public hypocrisy and Heinlein took a strong anti-racist stance in this book.
Heinlein describes the discrimination and prejudice in the society by mentioning the symptoms of a sick and dying culture by the following words:
“Mmm. This once I shall tell you. But go back and search for it. Examine it. Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms such as you have named… but a dying culture invariable exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.” (Heinlein) “Really?” “Pfui. I should have forced you to dig it out yourself; then you would know it. This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his/her strength.” (Heinlein)
Heinlein during the course of the book drops admiring comments about “rugged individualism,” the rights of individuals to benefit from the fruits of their own labor, and other bits and pieces of his political/ethical viewpoint. He mercilessly pokes fun at targets like political speech-making, California’s affinity for gubernatorial recalls, and the Eternal Revenue Service. The story is a bridge between realism and fantasy.
The overtones used on Friday is similar to that of Sherman Alexie’s Flight Patterns, which is a story about Native American salesman, William, set after the 9/11 attacks where people started having more problem with labeling others. Alexie uses symbolism throughout his short story to show how people are being labeled by how they appear. “I don’t want long hair, I don’t want short hair, I don’t want hair at all, and I don’t want to be a girl or a boy. I want to be a yellow and orange leaf some little kid picks up and pastes in his scrapbook.” (Alexie) This quote is using symbolism in that Grace, William’s five-year-old daughter, doesn’t want to be symbolized as a girl or having long hair or being a person. She wants to be a leaf which is not gendered or labeled at whom everyone looks at equally. Similarly, William uses life experience of 9/11 attacks to label all little brown men who smell of fundamentalism. Alexie claims that in this world everything is labeled and where labeling has become a norm. Following this claim, one can deduce that Friday who comes from a futuristic world, the labeling of Artificial Person and their subsequent prejudice and discrimination is not at all surprising.
Alexie, Sherman. Ten Little Indians, Chapter Flight Patterns. 2004.
“Heinlein and Racism.” 27 9 2001. Heinlein Readers Group.
Heinlein, Robert A. Friday. Del Ray, 1982.
Alexie, Sherman. Ten Little Indians, Chapter Flight Patterns. 2004.
This is a short story called “Flight Patterns” by Sherman Alexie. The story takes place about a year after the 9/11 attacks in Seattle, Washington from the point of view of William. William is an obsessive-compulsive workaholic sales type person who flies on planes most of his life. He has a wife and daughter. His daughter Grace has problems with gender basing and being a person in this world, but she has no problem with sleeping. We also meet a taxi driver named Fekadu who is from Ethiopia. In Alexie’s short story, he argues that after September 11th people started having more problems with labeling others and labeling themselves. He does this through the use of symbolism and through Grace, William and Fekadu’s life experiences.
Slusser, George. Robert Anson Heinlein, 1907-88. Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 15, No. 3 Nov. 1988, pp. 385-386
This is an article published in Science Fiction Studies journal in which the author writes notes of correspondence to Robert Heinlein. The author claims that Heinlein’s prose does not live on the metaphysical streets of a physical town. It is in fact, for the academic, a real stone, the one we must kick once in a while to see if we live in literary reality. Heinlein taught to see the real American tradition: Whitman, Jeffers, Twain and to look beyond imperfections of style to their mythic power. And Heinlein taught us to see that SF is not a debased avatar, but a true avenue-the continuation of our native myth. The author claims that if a true and vital flow passes from writers like Poe and Melville directly to Heinlein, then the academic distinction between SF and “mainstream” is a patent absurdity.
Wagner, Mitch . Heinlein’s Contradictory Views on Race. Robert A. Heinlein: the tor.com blog symposium, Aug 13, 2010. http://www.tor.com/2010/08/13/heinleins-contradictory-views-on-race/
This is an educational blog discussing Heinlein’s Contradictory views on race through his works. The author claims that throughout Heinlein’s career he displayed a mix of tolerance and celebrating diversity, alongside some ethnocentrism and sexism. On the whole, Heinlein was admirably welcoming to different ethnic groups, women, and alternative sexual orientations, especially for a man of his era. This claim of the author is synonymous with the novel at hand i.e. Friday in which Heinlein has admirably used an artificial person as the central character of the book around which the story revolves.
“Heinlein and Racism”. Heinlein Readers’ Group. September 27, 2001
This is an educational reading group site in which readers of Heinlein works discuss the interpretative claims of his books. In this article, the readers discuss the book Friday in respect of racism depicted by Heinlein. The article claims that combating bigotry in all its forms was one of Heinlein’s most persistent personal agendas in his role as a public moralist. With respect to racism, his usual approach as to include “minority” characters as major figures in his stories. The heroine is an Artificial Person who is smarter, faster, stronger than real person, yet damaged in her core by the bigotry she has internalized. He explores the mechanisms of damage by posing various incidents by which the internalized message of bigotry is enforced upon the self — Friday cannot resent rape; she is not a person. She cannot have a real family; nobody can love an artificial person. She sees herself as wearing the brand of her shame publicly like a scarlet letter, though she cannot, even with her superior senses, discern the scarlet letter of a fellow who has internalized and self-enforces the same brand of bigotry against himself.
Gray, Chris Hables. “There Will Be War!”: Future War Fantasies and Militaristic Science Fiction in the 1980s. Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, Nov. 1994, pp. 315-336
This is an article written by Chris Hables Gray in an educational journal of Science Fiction studies. The author claims that war has itself entered a crisis because technological science has made war horrific as to pose threat to human survival itself and therefore is profoundly nonsensical. In response to this danger, a significant group of science fiction authors has been writing from Robert Heinlein’s implicit premise that scientific progress will not end war, although it may displace it in time or space. War, in their view, remains natural necessary part of being human and of being intelligent, and, in fact, of life. It is fought out in other times, other dimensions, or, most commonly, on the Moon, on Mars, in the asteroid belt, or beyond the Solar System. This claim of the author is supported by the premise of Friday as it opens in a dystopian world where the Balkanized North America is disintegrated into smaller countries due to wars and Friday being an artificial person symbolizes the scientific progress which poses threat of war.