Stranger in a Strange Land

by: Robert A. Heinlein

Key Facts

full title ·  Stranger in a Strange Land

author ·  Robert A. Heinlein

type of work ·  Novel

genre ·  Science fiction; satire; speculative fiction; philosophical novel; religious allegory

language ·  English

time and place written ·  Heinlein began work on a "Man from Mars" novel in the early 1950s, but aborted the project. He wrote several other novels and short stories throughout the decade, periodically returning to the Mars idea, until finally in late 1960 he was able to complete it. Throughout this decade he lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

date of first publication ·  1961

publisher ·  G. P. Putnam's Sons

narrator ·  Anonymous. Although most of the story is told in a conventional fashion, relating characters' thoughts and conversation on a moment by moment basis, sometimes the narration takes a step back to encompass the large scale events on Earth and Mars, and often referencing quickly and nonchalantly vast chunks of cosmic history. This cosmic perspective is so vast as to sometimes give the impression that the novel is being told from a viewpoint that could only belong to a higher power outside of our universe, like a god.

point of view ·  The narration is written in the third person, omnisciently switching between the adventures and thoughts of various characters throughout the story.

tone ·  Satirical when lampooning cultural institutions like politics, religions, and the media, but generally affectionate and sympathetic to its characters, typically portraying its main characters as exceptionally talented and wise.

tense ·  Past

setting (time) ·  The future, though no specific dates are given—we are told that the novel takes places after "World War III," that space travel has become relatively simple, and that the moon is colonized. There is an indication that the novel may take place in the late 20th/early 21st century, as there are references to Jubal being under 100 years of age and his adolescence having been during "the Harding administration"—1921–23, presuming that this refers to U. S. President Warren G. Harding. The novel was published in 1961, when the 1990s/2000s were still far enough in the future to base the future Heinlein presents.

setting (place) ·  Earth (various locales in the U.S.); Mars; Heaven

protagonist ·  Valentine Michael Smith; Jubal Harshaw

major conflict ·  As Mike learns about human society, he comes to see that much of his Martian wisdom could be used to help alleviate the sufferings of mankind, but society's institutions are not designed to resist new and radical teachings like Mike's

rising action ·  Mike comes to understand humanity and sexuality; Mike discovers the parallel between "grokking" and "God"; Mike learns the value of showmanship from the carnival owner; Mike founds the Church of All Worlds

climax ·  Mike's church is burned down

falling action ·  Jubal rushes to see Mike; Mike and Jubal converse, and Jubal tells Mike that he must demonstrate for people the truths that he has learned; Mike allows himself to be publicly murdered by an angry mob; Jubal and Mike's followers vow to carry on Mike's work

themes ·  Parallels between Mike and Jesus Christ; the necessary power of institutions vs. their tendency toward corruption; the spiritual importance of sexuality

motifs ·  The cosmic perspective; rhetorical argument; Martianisms

symbols ·  "Grokking"; Jubal's sculptures; Heaven

foreshadowing ·  Starting with the title of Part One, "His Maculate Conception" and throughout the novel there are many parallels between Mike and Jesus Christ; Captain van Tromp advances the theory in Chapter XXI that Mike may be a spy for the Martians