Stranger in a Strange Land
Note: These chapters begin Part Three, entitled "His Eccentric Education."
The narrator tells us of cosmic developments in the galaxy. The Martian elders discuss the implications of an important piece of Martian artwork. The narrator tells of recent developments in Earth culture.
Most of the media frenzy surrounding Mike has abated, but Mike is still receiving large loads of mail at Jubal's estate. Though Mike receives many sexual propositions, one day a particularly lewd one arrives, and Jill, shocked, shows it to Jubal. She is tempted to tear up the picture, but Jubal insists that Mike's mail is his own property and that she is obliged to pass it on to him. Jill fears corrupting Mike's innocence, but Jubal points out that Mike is hardly innocent—he has killed men. Jubal tells Jill that if Mike does not want the picture then she should pass it on to Duke, who enjoys lewd pictures. Jill is surprised, as Jubal argues that an affinity for pornography does not compromise Duke's status as a gentleman.
Mike is interested in the picture, and the concept of sex, which he understands technically, but does not grok. Mike gives the picture to Duke. Some paperwork arrives from Douglas, and Jubal explains to Mike the concept of money. Realizing how money economically binds together people all over the planet, Mike finds himself awed by the beauty of the idea. Mike begins buying presents for everyone he knows. Jill helps him to choose appropriate gifts. For Jubal he buys a replica of a Rodin sculpture that turns out to be a favorite of Jubal's. For Jill he buys perfume and she kisses him in gratitude. Dorcas shows playful jealousy, and flirts with Mike.
Senator Boone sends repeated invitations to Mike to attend a Fosterite service led by Bishop Digby. Finally arrangements are made for Mike, accompanied by Jubal and Jill, to go to one.
On the way to the service, Jubal warns Mike that the Fosterites will try to seduce him for his money and his fame. Jubal warns of the ways of organized religions. Jubal was taught in his youth that those outside of his religion were damned, but if Jubal had truly taken that to heart, then he could not have befriended, for example, Mahmoud, a Muslim. Jubal fears that the Fosterites are sincere in their prosthelytizing, and that perhaps their sincerity will appeal to Mike.
Boone meets them at the Fosterite Tabernacle. He shows them a hall filled with slot machines, and explains that the Fosterites have, rather than shunning secular salesmanship, made it work for them. Gambling, as any activity, can be holy if done in the proper spirit. Jubal tries out a slot machine and Mike, curious, uses his psychic ability to win three consecutive jackpots. Jill whispers to Mike to stop. Jubal, uncomfortable, puts his winnings in a church donation bowl.
Mike, Jubal, and Jill are taken to the Supreme Bishop Digby's quarters. They are brought to a room which contains, apparently, the preserved corpse of the founder of the Fosterite sect, the Archangel Foster. Boone tells them that Foster had died in the very chair in which his body still sits, and that the Tabernacle had been built around the body. Mike groks "wrongness."
Boone takes them to a service being led by a former football star, where the hymns have a corporate sponsor. Boone summons a stripper and church employee named Dawn Ardent to bring them drinks. Dawn is thrilled to meet Jubal, whose writing she admires. Jill momentarily worries that Dawn is coming on to Mike. They watch the lively service, which includes much dancing and yelling; Mike is captivated. Digby appears, and immediately introduces Mike to the crowd.
After the service, Digby and Boone entertain Mike, Jubal, and Jill. At one point, when Boone has Jill's attention and Jubal is getting himself some food, Digby takes the opportunity to pull Mike off into a private room. Boone leaves to call a cab for his guests. After ten minutes, Jill worriedly tries to open the door to the room in which Mike is, and finds it locked. Mike finally emerges from the room alone, and he and his friends leave in a hurry.
Heinlein worked on the story of Stranger in a Strange Land for more than a decade, and had many false starts on the novel. Many critics believe that the first half of the book was in fact written years before the second half, and the shift from relatively conventional science fiction to outlandishness and heavy satire that begin in these chapters would seem to support this argument. The suspense and adventure elements that had defined Part One and had lurked in the background of Part Two essentially disappear in Part Three, as the novel becomes focused on the spiritual journeys of Mike and his companions.
The Fosterite religion is in many ways a broad parody of cults and televangelist cultures that were on the rise in the 1950s when Heinlein wrote the novel. Their increased prominence in the years after the novel's publication makes it seem oddly prescient. Unlike the exclusionary, conservative religions of traditional American culture, like the one in which Jubal describes being raised, the Fosterites embrace many of the things that other religions might consider vices or sins. Gambling is one humorous example, as it not only attracts crowds, but also raises a good deal of money for the church. The Fosterites have internalized—and, by their belief, made holy—lessons learned from capitalism and pop culture. Their leaders are football players and strippers, and, most ridiculously, they accept advertising money from corporations to sponsor hymns at services. With their focus on moneymaking schemes, it is easy to understand why cynics like Jubal might wonder if they are not just greedy scam artists.
Mike is quite taken with their religion, and since it is portrayed so unflatteringly, we are led to wonder if Mike is merely naïve, or if he is perceiving a beauty that we—and Jubal, the consciousness through whom much of the narrative is filtered—are overlooking. This ambiguity will haunt him for the rest of the novel, and stands as one of the most intriguing questions that the story poses. Mike's fascination with the beauty of money also strikes an ambiguous chord. Certainly our culture tends to look on money as a thing of utility, not beauty. But Mike perceives money not from the human perspective, as something for which we are often forced to struggle and fight for, but rather from a cosmic perspective, as a connective tissue which, for better or worse, joins much of humanity together. This intriguing and valid way of thinking of money suggests that Mike's Martian perspective on other aspects of human culture might be equally valuable.
Regardless of Mike's ability to perceive beauty in odd places, Bishop Digby is clearly not a trustworthy character. The way he slyly is able to sneak Mike away from Jubal and Jill—and then lock the door—is the act of a con man. Digby does not tell Jubal and Jill that he needs a moment with Mike alone, but merely finds an opportune moment to abscond with him. Interestingly, Heinlein's narration leaves us on the outside of that door, with Jubal and Jill, while Digby makes whatever appeal he has prepared for Mike. We can safely presume that Digby tried to win Mike over to the cause of the Fosterites, but what exactly occurs in that meeting will prove to be one of the plot's great mysteries as it unfolds in future chapters.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!