The Primer’s goal is to produce creative, subversive youth

People often remember The Diamond Age’s Primer as a magical teaching/learning device, but that wasn’t its primary goal. Finkle-McGraw, the Primer’s patron, first appears reciting this Wordsworth passage:

Where had we been we two, beloved Friend!
If in the season of unperilous choice,
In lieu of wandering, as we did, through vales
Rich with indigenous produce, open ground
Of Fancy, happy pastures ranged at will,
We had been followed, hourly watched, and noosed,
Each in his several melancholy walk
Stringed like a poor man’s heifer at its feed,
Led through the lanes in forlorn servitude.

(p. 17)

He complains that their schools are churning out uniformity, dullness. The aspiration: “in order to raise a generation of children who can reach their full potential, we must find a way to make their lives interesting.” (p. 24) And when, shortly after, he asks Hackworth to create the Primer, his primary instruction is: “I would like you to go home and ponder the meaning of the word subversive.” (p. 81)

There’s an irony here. Most people remember the Primer for its educational properties and forget its true goal. But in some sense, the Primer forgets its true goal too; as described, The Primer is fundamentally an educational game. The Primer’s explicit learning quests teach Nell to delegate her curiosity and interest. Nell doesn’t do any original thinking inside the Primer.


Stephenson, N. (2003). The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (Reprint edition). Spectra.

Last updated 2023-07-13.