Stranger in a Strange Land

by: Robert A. Heinlein

Chapters XXIV–XXVI

Summary Chapters XXIV–XXVI

Jubal is uncertain of Mike's role in Digby's death. After many days spent in trance-state, Mike's personality seems to alter—he goes from docility to cockiness. Mike seems almost fully human now to Jubal, except that he still does not laugh. Mike announces to Jubal that he needs to leave and see the world, taking Jill as a companion. Mike tells Jubal that he considers him a father.

The narrator describes a traveling carnival. One attraction is a tattooed woman named Patty Paiwonski. She had been tattooed by her late husband, a devout Fosterite just like her. Another act is a magician named Dr. Apollo, and his assistant, Miss Merlin. Apollo performs astonishing tricks, including levitation and making objects vanish, but the audience is unimpressed. The carnival owner tells Dr. Apollo that he cannot continue with the tour. The owner advises Apollo that, though his tricks are impressive, he needs to learn showmanship—he needs to learn the psychology of the "chumps" in the audience.

The narration reveals that Apollo and Miss Merlin are actually Mike and Jill. Patty regrets that they are leaving, and she arranges to visit them at their hotel that night. Driving to the hotel, Jill thinks back on the months since they left Jubal's home. They had traveled to different cities and done different jobs, experiencing the country.

Jill and Mike take a bath together. Mike makes his clothes vanish—he now no longer needs to grok wrongness in an object to make it disappear. Mike worries aloud that he does not grok chumps. Jill admonishes him for calling people "chumps," but Mike groks that they are in fact chumps. Patty arrives.

Analysis

In these chapters Mike undergoes a transformation from meek outsider to a man in full control of his destiny, and the major catalyst for this shift is his murder of Digby. Heinlein reveals this fact gradually. In Chapter XXIV Mike worries about what he has done, and later when he goes into a trance, we are told that he disobeyed Jill's instructions not to, as Mike calls it, "waste food." Heinlein does not spell out what exactly occurred, and it is not until the next chapter, tucked in amongst narration about a number of seemingly unconnected events on Earth, that we are told for certain that Digby has died. This decisive, personal action begins Mike on his journey from being a "stranger in a strange land" to being very much at home in this strange land.

We are never told for certain why Mike felt forced to kill Digby; it remains one of the novel's great mysteries. We find out in Chapter XXV that Digby had in fact killed his former superior, Foster, so it is certainly plausible that Digby may have tried to kill Mike. Digby had had reason to feel threatened by Mike; as a charismatic, powerful, and unique personality, Earth people were going to look to Mike to spiritual guidance whether or not Mike chose to provide it. Mike could have been an influential ally for Digby, but it is possible that in their discussion, Mike's philosophy ("Thou art God!") might have seemed threatening to Digby. Perhaps Digby had realized that Mike could not be convinced to follow the Fosterite belief system to the exclusion of other religions, and Digby therefore decided Mike must be killed. This is all speculation, as Heinlein does not tell us why Mike killed Digby, so we must ponder for ourselves.