House of Stairs addresses the conflict between the rewards society provides for conformity and the personal satisfaction derived from asserting one's individuality. The book also vividly illustrates a common theme of science-fiction novels: the potentially dangerous consequences of an exploitative government. Sleator depicts the exploitation of five sixteenyear-olds—Peter, Lola, Blossom, Abigail, and Oliver—as they seek out the frightening and shocking truth about the house of stairs. The results of manipulating human behavior are not pretty, and the pain that people are capable of inflicting upon one another in order to survive is ghastly. But Sleator also shows that strong individuals can care and learn to survive in nonviolent ways.