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Stranger in a Strange Land

Robert A. Heinlein

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The narrative viewpoint of the novel aligns itself with a number of different characters as the story progresses—at any given point the main perspective may be Jubal's, Jill's, Ben's, or any of the more minor characters. Given this, can Mike truly be said to be the main character of the novel? Why do you think that relatively little of the story is seen from Mike's point of view?

Heinlein chooses to begin the novel by aligning the narration with characters like Jill and Ben, whose perspective is far closer to our own than Mike's would be. Planet Earth may be a "strange land" to Mike, but it is home to us. Although the novel does take place in an altered future society, that society is clearly intended to be a slightly, satirically distorted version of contemporary American society. Heinlein only gives us glimpses of Mike's alien view of our society—instead, we learn about Mike's perspective mostly alongside, and vicariously through, Mike's Earth friends. Even when Mike has become reconciled with his humanity, for example, having learned to be a showman, or having learned to laugh, Heinlein still tends to align the narrative voice with others. All of Part Four, for example, is framed by Ben's conversation with Jubal about Mike. By showing us Mike through the eyes of Ben, we understand the experience of the average man learning to accept Mike's message, rather than the less universal experience of Mike trying to teach his lessons. Mike drives the action, but inasmuch we are led to develop more sympathies for the others, he could not accurately be called the protagonist or "main character."

As the story progresses, more and more of Mike's friends become his disciples in the Church of All Worlds. People who initially resist his teachings, such as Duke and Ben, become avid followers of Mike. Why does Mike's "father" Jubal, who supports all of Mike's endeavors, never join the church himself until the very end of the novel?

Although Mike loves and respects all of the friends he makes on Earth, Jubal is the only person to whom Mike looks for wisdom. Jubal is responsible for Mike's early education in the ways of humankind, before Mike becomes confident enough to strike out in the world with Jill to learn on his own. Mike thus treats Jubal as if he were one of the Martian Old Ones, someone so aged and wise as to be beyond any lessons that Mike could teach. Jubal's individualist philosophies, and his belief that he is too old to alter his ways, keep him from joining Mike's group. Rather than trying to coerce Jubal—treating him like a "mark" or a "chump"—Mike respects Jubal's wish to keep his distance for as long as he chooses. If Mike is a Jesus-figure, and Jubal is his "father," then Jubal is like a God-figure in the Church of All Worlds, and it would seem redundant for him to be a member of his own flock.

What is the significance of sexuality in the novel? In what ways does Mike's sexual awakening parallel his spiritual awakening? Do you consider the sexuality to be romantic? Explain.

The narrator tells us in Chapter XI that the Martians lack bipolar sexuality as we know it and that that is the most significant difference between their races and ours. Over the course of the novel Mike comes to the same conclusion. Initially Mike's interest in human sexuality is purely academic: upon laying eyes on a woman for the first time (Jill), he immediately wants to see her naked to better understand what makes her female. Soon enough, at Jubal's house, he is initiated in the ways of kissing, and then sex. In these physical intimacies, Mike discovers new forms of spiritual connections—"grokking"—between humans. Grokking is central to Mike's understanding of the Earthling concept of "God," so in a sense, lovemaking becomes for Mike the most powerful manifestation of God on Earth. Sex for Mike then is not romantic in the sense of an exclusive connection between two people who are particularly suited to each other. Although Mike has a deep bond with Jill, he chooses not to marry her, and Ben's desire to marry Jill is also thwarted in the interest of the greater good of sharing their sexuality with all of their friends, and thus maximizing their Godliness.

Many critics have accused Heinlein and Stranger of sexism—on the other hand, some have asserted that the novel has an empowering feminist message. What do you think? Cite examples from the text to support your argument.

What does Mike hope to accomplish by sacrificing his life or his human body to the angry mob at the end of the novel? In what way does his final conversation with Jubal influence his decision to make this sacrifice?

Look at the structure of the novel. While great lengths of time are often compressed—months of action are summed up in mere paragraphs—in Part Two, "His Preposterous Heritage," the action of a couple weeks stretches out to fill the longest section of the novel. Why is this section of the story allowed more space in which to unfold than the rest?

The narration of the book is sometimes cagey and evasive; seemingly important details of the narrative are often left to our imagination. Why, for example, might Heinlein have chosen not to tell us what happens in the private confrontation between Mike and Digby, which ends Digby's life?

Before Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein had an successful career as a writer of traditional science fiction, many of them simple adventure stories intended for an adolescent market. What elements of traditional formulaic storytelling does Heinlein retain in Stranger? What elements does he subvert? How do the traditional sci-fi aspects and the more experimental, genre-expanding aspects work together?

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Apollo =/= Mars

by Brags753, July 10, 2013

The summary incorrectly states that Apollo is the Greek "word" for Mars. Actually, Ares is the Greek name for the god known as Mars in Latin.

Apollo is one of the few classical gods known by nearly the same name in Greek and Latin. In English, he is called Apollo in both contexts.

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