As in Lord of the Flies , which had been published a year earlier, isolation reveals the true natures of the students as individuals, but it also demonstrates some of the constants of human existence as a social animal. Its underlying themes run counter to those in Lord of the Flies , however, in that it shows a belief in the inherent strength of humans as proto-adults who can self-organize rather than descend into barbarism. Some of the students fall victim to their own foolishness, and others turn out to be thugs, but that is a part of human nature, just as the counter-trends take the group as a whole towards the beginnings of a stable society.
The numerous political crises of the fledgling colony illustrate the need for legitimacy in a government appropriate for the society it administers, another common theme in Heinlein's books. In both its romanticization of the pioneer and its glorification of Homo sapiens as the toughest player in the Darwinian game, it presages themes developed further in books like Time Enough for Love and Starship Troopers . Unusual for science fiction at the time, but quite typical of Heinlein's works, the novel portrays several competent and intelligent female characters.