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Stranger in a Strange Land

Robert A. Heinlein

Chapters XXIV–XXVI

Summary Chapters XXIV–XXVI

When Digby dies he ascends to Heaven, and the narration of the novel takes a bold jump in scope. Since the opening chapters, Heinlein has accustomed us to narration that leaps between small interpersonal exchanges and God-like views of the whole galaxy over centuries, but nothing has prepared us for a narrator who is omniscient enough to see into Heaven. More importantly, nothing has prepared us for the presentation of Heaven as an irrefutably factual place. In a novel in which the Earthbound characters spend much of their time discussing comparative religion and the most reliable philosophical voice, Jubal, is agnostic. It is an ironic and wildly comical step to show that Heaven exists, and that Heaven is a combination of Christian cliché elements (halos, winged angels) and bureaucratic business practices (a result-oriented God, like a foreman, overseeing his archangels' work). Whether this willfully irreverent portrait of Heaven is meant to be taken literally in a novel that otherwise tends toward a stylized realism is again up to the us—these afterlife scenes may be seen as metaphor, if we choose.

After coming to terms with his ability to make his own decisions, Mike follows a classic pattern of coming into manhood. First he loses his virginity, and Heinlein makes another curious narrative decision, not revealing which woman is Mike's partner. Critics who accuse the novel of sexism often site this scene as the prime example of the interchangeability of Heinlein's women, as if it the differences between the four women are so unimportant that they need not be granted individuality. Yet this omission of identity can be seen in terms of Mike's personal growth: in "growing-closer" with the one woman, and "grokking God" with her, he is in fact growing closer to all of them, to all of humanity. In this sense, the woman's specific identity is irrelevant. After he loses his virginity, it is only a short time until Mike leaves his adoptive family and goes off to explore the world. His adventures with Jill are mostly glossed over—after having spent half the novel on events that took place over a matter of weeks, Heinlein compresses months into short paragraphs—but the narration makes it clear that, in these months, Mike has completed his journey to self-actualized manhood.