Stranger in a Strange Land
Jubal runs into Jill, who is delighted at his having spent the night with Dawn. The entire ninth circle, she reveals, had been psychically present during the "growing-closer."
Mike is relieved to talk to Jubal, for he is the only person he can talk to who will not be overwhelmed. Mike confesses to Jubal that he has recently learned that he was sent to Earth as a spy for the Old Ones. They had recorded his experiences and examined them as data regarding Earth culture. The Martians may choose to destroy Earth, or try to remake its culture in a Martian image. Jubal asks Mike to describe the Old Ones, and Mike explains that the Old Ones are Martian ghosts who control the affairs of the planet. The Old Ones do not rush judgments, and will take at least five hundred years before deciding upon a fate for the Earth.
Mike tells Jubal that his teachings have never truly been religious; he has disguised them as religion to appeal to the public. Mike praises the linkage of human minds during sex to be the greatest knowable ecstasy. But Mike knows that humans are given to jealousy, and wants to help people defeat this emotional obstacle. Mike reveals to Jubal that he and Jill have mentally vanished a number of hostile people recently. Jill has become comfortable with "discorporating" people since grokking that it is impossible to truly kill a person, as his or her spirit always lives on.
Mike worries that he has misled his followers to believe that all humanity will eventually experience the joyful contentment they feel. Perhaps, Mike thinks, humankind requires unhappiness and conflict. The phrase "Thou art God," Mike explains, is not a light affirmation, but a responsibility that each person must bear. Earthlings seem unready to accept that God is within them. Jubal tells Mike to exhibit Martian patience and not give up on his mission. Jubal tells Mike that he must show people the truth.
A hostile mob of people gathers outside the hotel. Mike puts on his fanciest outfit and heads out, accompanied by Anne in her Fair Witness robe, and Duke carrying cameras. Jubal follows, but Mike encourages him to stay in the room with the other ninth circle members and watch the stereovision. Jubal believes he sees Mike slice off one of his own fingers while slicing an apple. Jubal goes back inside.
A newscaster covers the scene outside. Mike then appears outside the hotel. A shaft of light hits Mike as he makes his clothing vanish and tells the people, "Look at me. I am a son of man." The report cuts to a soap commercial. When coverage returns, people are throwing rocks at Mike. Mike offers the crowd water. A shotgun blast blows Mike's right arm off. Mike preaches messages of love as the crowd surrounds and murders him.
All of Mike's followers agree that Mike has exhibited masterful showmanship. Jubal is stunned that he seems to be the only one upset. Jubal asks Patty if she knew that Mike had been planning to allow the mob to kill him, but Patty did not. Jill asks Jubal to "grok the fullness"; she explains that though Mike has discorporated, like any spirit, he could never truly be killed.
Jubal goes alone to his room, feeling that his foolish advice has goaded his son into a useless martyrdom. He takes pills to commit suicide. Losing consciousness, he is awakened by a vision of Mike telling him that it is not yet time for him to discorporate. Mike takes Jubal to the bathroom and helps him to vomit out the overdose.
Mike's comrades discuss their plans. Some will return to their homes and found temples. Duke suggests that Jubal's house can accommodate many of the rest. Duke finishes cooking the remains of Mike's body for lunch. They eat, and Jubal decides to buy the spot where Mike was murdered and convert it into a memorial. Flying home, Jubal has Dorcas take dictation of a new "stereoplay," entitled "A Martian Named Smith."
The narration assures us that the Old Ones will ultimately be unable to destroy Earth. In Heaven, Foster receives a new assignment, and introduces Digby to his new supervisor: the Archangel Mike.
Mike's death scene—or "discorporation," since Jill explains that no human spirit ever truly dies—is a grotesque portrayal of the worst of human culture which goes exactly as Mike plans. In traditional martyr fashion, Mike is murdered by enraged brutes while he is defenseless, literally naked, and offering water to his murderers. Mike even manages, like a Hollywood special effects artist, to make the clouds shift to bathe him in an angelic shaft of light as he makes his grand entrance to the scene. Heinlein drives home the point that Mike's murder is a show for the world by having Jubal and friends watch it on a stereo tank, where it is interrupted by crass and silly commercials. Mike understands that pop cultural storytelling—stereovision or television—is the language to which the populace best responds, so he gives them a horrifying and ridiculous discorporation that could not be better scripted. The most significant lesson Mike that has learned in his transition from his Martian background to his full embrace of Earth culture is salesmanship, and his end is a masterpiece of manipulation, a commercial for goodness.
Throughout the novel, Jubal Harshaw has been an unflappable master of rhetoric and an avatar of contrarian wisdom. Many characters have engaged in arguments with him, but none have ever substantively swayed Jubal's opinions. In these last chapters, as Mike submits to his destined martyrdom, Jubal at last becomes a character capable of emotion, and of change. When Mike discorporates, Jubal is stricken with the worry that it may have been his advice to show people the truth that caused his "son" to give his life to the angry mob. Suddenly Jubal's rock solid individualist philosophies seem to be responsible for Mike's death, and thus, useless and painful to Jubal. The grief of losing Mike combined with the demolition of his belief in his own savvy causes Jubal to attempt suicide, but when he is rescued by a visitation from a ghostly Mike, Jubal returns with a new sense of purpose. The old man, who has always resisted Mike's teachings, and has been the only one of Mike's friends allowed respectfully to keep his distance from the Nest, now seems poised to accept the mantle of father figure for all of Mike's water-brothers. Jubal prepares to learn from Mike as Mike learned from him.
Like the scenes that take place in Heaven, the concrete reality of Mike's afterlife visit to Jubal is ambiguous. Heinlein leaves us to decide for ourselves to what extent the scene functions as metaphor. Certainly we can accept as fact that Jubal decides to take an overdose of pills and that, as his consciousness is drifting, he vomits and saves his own life. But Heinlein intentionally narrates Mike's visitation very quickly, and in vague language to suggest that perhaps Jubal is hallucinating. The point is not that Jubal has lost his mind, but rather that it is inconsequential whether he is hallucinating. The Mike that exists within Jubal's mind now is as powerful and real as the Mike he had conversed with hours earlier.
A similar ambiguity applies to the final chapter in which Mike ascends to Heaven and begins his work as an archangel. Mike's continuing influence on the happenings of planet Earth can be seen literally as the toil of an angel in Heaven or metaphorically as a powerful leader's continuing influence in the hearts and minds of the populace. This duality of the angels' roles helps to explain why such apparently impure con artists such as Foster and Digby could have found a place in God's employ in Heaven. Because legions of followers have accepted Foster and Digby as their holy leaders, and their teachings remain long after they die, then they indeed have a continuing "Heavenly" influence on the Earth. Mike joins their company, as well as that of Jesus, Mohammed, and history's other great prophets. Or, in Martian terms, Mike becomes one of the Old Ones, the spirits who rule over the planet not in spite of the fact that their bodies have died, but because of it.
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