Chapter XX

Jubal signals Mike to stand, along with everyone else, for Douglas's entrance into the hall. The "Martian anthem" that Jubal has demanded is played, and everyone stands except for Mike; Jubal believes that this gesture sends the political message that Mike represents a sovereign nation. Douglas delivers greetings to Mike, and Mike responds with a prepared speech, in Martian and English. Jubal has a note delivered to him from Douglas, in response to the letter he had had delivered before the conference. Douglas's response is simply, "Yes."

Jubal explains to everyone present that Mike's vast wealth is such that managing it will be a full time job for someone, and that he is not up to the task. Jubal explains that Mike has requested that Douglas take the job of managing his business affairs. If Douglas refuses, Mike's second choice is Ben. Douglas asks Mike if these are indeed his wishes and Mike confirms that they are. An assemblyman asks about the Larkin Decision, the legal precedent that suggests that Mike owns Mars. Jubal says that Mike does not own Mars. The Larkin Decision, Jubal argues, is irrelevant, as Mars had already been inhabited by the Martian race long before Mike was ever born there.

Chapter XXI

The "Martian delegation" retire to a hotel. Jubal has Miriam bring drinks for himself and the Champion crewmen who have accompanied them: Captain Van Tromp, Dr. Nelson, and Mahmoud, also called by the nickname "Stinky." The men discuss the attractiveness of Jubal's secretaries, and Jubal teases Mahmoud about his bachelorhood. Mahmoud tells Jubal that he would never marry outside of the Muslim faith.

Mahmoud, who has learned to speak Martian, expounds on the word "grok." It is, he says, the most important word in the Martian language, and he expects to spend years studying it. Mahmoud explains that one would need to truly think in a Martian way to fully understand "grok." Mahmoud describes his own difficulty, in youth, learning to think in English after having grown up speaking Arabic—and Mahmoud suggests that the mental leap to thinking in Martian would be a far more complex and difficult task for an Earthling. Mahmoud explains that the literal, original meaning of "to grok" in Martian is "to drink;" but that "to grok" is also "to fear," "to love," "to hate," and "to be identically equal." "Grokking" is the Martian equivalent of religion, philosophy, and science rolled into one. Mike complements Mahmoud on his understanding of Martian and tells him, "Thou art God." In his own faith, Mahmoud perceives this as a blasphemy, though he knows that Mike does not mean to offend.

Mahmoud finds himself attracted to the secretaries, but does not allow himself to follow this thought process too far. Dr. Nelson asks Jubal how Mike has gotten so muscular so quickly. Mike explains that he "thinked" his muscles into being. Speaking to van Tromp, Jubal explains why he maneuvered Douglas into taking the job of being Mike's financial manager. Jubal had no interest in being saddled with Mike's business affairs, but he knew that Douglas was already accustomed to the life of tremendous power combined with great stress that would make him ideal for the task.

Jubal also explains his strategy vis-à-vis the Larkin Decision controversy. He had not wanted Mike to be politically burdened with ownership of Mars, nor did he want to appease the Federation by relinquishing Mike's rights to them. So Jubal had forced the Federation to treat Mike as a sovereign nation, but then had suggested that Mike deserved sovereign treatment not for his own power but as a representative of the ancient Martian race. Thus Jubal had trapped the Federation into recognizing the Martians' ownership of their own planet, and political contentions had been defused.

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.


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.