Stranger in a Strange Land

by: Robert A. Heinlein

Chapters XX–XXI

Van Tromp advances a theory that perhaps Mike has been sent to Earth as a spy for the Martians. Van Tromp tells a story of a lieutenant on the Champion mission who had gone missing, presumably killed by the Martians. Van Tromp fears that the Martians are not as peaceful as they seem. Papers arrive from Douglas to finalize his deal with Mike; acting as Mike's lawyer, Jubal gleefully signs them.

Analysis

The novel throughout is told by an omniscient narrator, who is able to peer into the minds of all of the story's characters. Though we are mostly treated to the thoughts of relatively like-minded people, such as Jubal and Jill and Ben, in Chapter XXI we are given a view inside of Dr. Mahmoud's head that gives us a fresh perspective on the novel's events and characters. Whereas most of the focal characters in the novel are sexually and politically liberal white people, Mahmoud is a conservative and religiously devout Muslim. Heinlein's narration often gives the impression that the heroes of the story, Jubal and his entourage, are the only people whose opinions are valuable, and that characters like Douglas exist mostly as targets of satire. However, Mahmoud is treated with respect by both the narrator and the characters. Mike's quest through the novel is to connect with humanity as a whole. By giving us a character, Mahmoud, whose moral worldview is very different from Jubal's, but who is still equally capable of being touched by Mike, Heinlein strengthens the sense of Mike as a man with a universal message—like Jesus or Mohammed.

The conversation between the men in Chapter XXI quickly turns to the beauty of Jubal's secretaries. For many critics, this scene seems a crystallization of sexism and paternalism inherent in the book. While the men drink and discuss the women's attractiveness, the women are off fetching the drinks and preparing a meal. Furthermore, while Jubal and Mahmoud and the other men are easily distinguishable from each other by various traits, neither the narrator nor the male characters in the book seem to be much interested in the women's individuality. Anne, Miriam, and Dorcas often seem to be interchangeable (though there are some factors that set them apart: Anne is a no-nonsense certified Fair Witness, Dorcas seems to be the flightiest). Stranger in a Strange Land is undoubtedly told from a male perspective, with a focus on male concerns, but whether this makes it sexist is open to debate. Some critics have even praised the relationship between Jubal and his secretaries as a bold feminist statement—he never oppresses them and they do seem to have an good deal of power in their employer/employee relationship. He may pay their salaries, but they run the household.

These chapters conclude Part Two, and essentially conclude the portion of the novel concerned with political intrigue. Heinlein provides a satirically anticlimactic ending to a subplot that could have preoccupied the entire novel. Though we have been led to fear that Mike's super powers and wealth might be useless against the fearsome Federation government, ultimately the Federation turns out to be an easily bested foe. By appealing to Douglas's vanity and hunger for power, and by exploiting loopholes in the law, Jubal is able to turn Mike's most powerful enemy, Douglas, the most politically powerful man on Earth, into Mike's employee. Douglas's importance in the rest of the novel is negligible. Although political intrigue has been enough to sustain the plots of many science fiction novels, with this easy denouement of political issues, Heinlein hints that the direction of the rest of the novel will be far more personal and eccentric than the average science fiction yarn.