Stranger in a Strange Land

by: Robert A. Heinlein

Chapters XXXVI–XXXIX

Summary Chapters XXXVI–XXXIX

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.

Analysis

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.