Stranger in a Strange Land | Study Guide

Robert A. Heinlein

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Stranger in a Strange Land | Character Analysis

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Valentine Michael Smith

Valentine Michael Smith was born to a crewmember of the first manned mission to Mars, the Envoy. The craft stopped transmitting messages soon after reaching Mars and was thought to be lost. But Smith survived, and was raised by Martians. The Martians are an intelligent species. But their language gives them a picture of reality that is far different from the human concept of reality. Smith arrives on Earth with a Martian perspective on reality, language, and culture. Smith's five life stages from birth to death form the novel's structure. His journey from "childhood" to "adulthood" is a process of growing in understanding of human culture and language. As he learns about humanity, however, he doesn't leave his Martian upbringing behind. Rather, he blends his two cultures and gains insight into how he might help humanity. He delivers his help under the guise of a religion heavily steeped in sexuality. Unbeknownst to Smith, however, the Martians have kept a mental link with him in efforts to gather data on humanity. This data will be used to help them decide whether or not to destroy Earth. In his efforts to learn about humanity to help it, Smith realizes he has also been a spy on humanity for those who might destroy it. This crisis comes to a head near the end of the book and leads to his dramatic martyrdom.

Jubal Harshaw

Valentine Michael Smith is the novel's protagonist. However, Jubal's larger-than-life personality dominates many aspects of the story. He is introduced as a lawyer, doctor, and famous author. Having established a steady income through writing, he now lives a life that is 95 percent leisure and only 5 percent business. He is an individualist through and through with an "each to his own" philosophy. He lives on an estate in the Poconos with two handymen and three attractive secretaries. Jubal has something of a dual role in the novel. He is a father figure and protector to Smith. He gives Smith the beginnings of his education that allows Smith to integrate his Martian ideas into his own humanity. And, importantly, he reassures Smith when Smith finds out he's been inadvertently spying for the Martians. Jubal also acts as an alter-ego for the author, and often expounds upon topics from politics to art that present the author's arguments. Jubal's own growth as a character can often be obscured by his role as adviser to the other characters (and his lengthy lectures on the nature of art or morality). Yet he is an interesting man in his own right. He has adult children and has sworn off sex. He has determined he will not live into triple digits and has planned his own suicide. The final chapters of the book are as much about Jubal's healing as they are about Smith's "happy destiny."

Gillian Boardman

Gillian Boardman (Jill) is introduced as a competent nurse whose "hobby" was men. But this rather unflattering introduction does not do justice to the strength of her character. She shows herself to be a courageous and quick-thinking woman quite soon. Spurred by fears over Ben Caxton's strange disappearance, Jill sneaks Smith out of Bethesda Hospital and takes him to Jubal Harshaw's. Throughout the escape, she is calm and matter-of-fact, treating Smith like a patient rather than a man. Jill is Smith's first female water brother and the first layperson to learn Martian. She becomes Smith's close companion when he leaves Jubal's. She helps him establish the Church of All Worlds. Her role is high priestess, a role she shares with Dawn Ardent. She and Dawn become quite close. They intentionally change their faces and bodies to resemble each other closely.

Ben Caxton

Ben Caxton is a newspaperman looking for a scoop when he finds his lover Gillian Boardman might have access to the Man from Mars. He is savvy to the laws that affect Smith's political and economic situation, and he comprehends how the various powers that be are likely to react to Smith's existence. Thus, he becomes convinced Smith's life is in danger, so he manages to talk Jill into helping him get access to Smith. Ben's mysterious disappearance is the catalyst for Jill's daring rescue of Smith. It is the reason she takes Smith to Jubal Harshaw's home. Later Ben becomes a somewhat skeptical member of Smith's water brothers. He also has to cope with his jealous feelings about Jill and Smith's intimate relationship. In Part 4 of the book, it is Ben's view of Smith's Church of All Worlds that readers see. Ben provides a close-up view of Smith that is still removed enough to be complementary to Smith's own internal thoughts.

Patricia Paiwonski

Patricia Paiwonski meets Valentine Michael Smith and Gillian Boardman when they all work together at a carnival. When Smith and Jill's act is cut from the carnival, Patty visits them at their hotel. She reveals she is a Fosterite, and has the entire life story of Reverend Foster tattooed on her body. She begins showing off her illustrations as a means to bring Jill and Smith to the light. But she is quickly converted to believe in Smith as a holy man—as holy as Reverend Foster. Thus her role is much different from Jill's, Jubal's, or any of Smith's other early water brothers. Patty is full of adoration for Smith. Her faith in his holiness is unquestioning. When Smith begins the Church of All Worlds, Patty is indispensable as manager of the communal living area called the "Nest."

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