Stranger in a Strange Land | Study Guide

Robert A. Heinlein

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Stranger in a Strange Land | Part 1, Chapters 5–6 : His Maculate Origin | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 5

Jill expresses her surprise at the idea that Smith might be the sovereign of Mars. Then she agrees to place a recording device in a room adjoining Smith's. Ben uses the information from the recordings to write an article implying that Secretary General Douglas is deliberately keeping Smith confined to the hospital for political reasons.

The recordings also capture an interaction between Secretary General Douglas and Smith. On the recording, Dr. Nelson reluctantly allows the two to speak alone. With Dr. Nelson gone, Douglas tries to get Smith to sign away his rights to Mars. But Smith has difficulty understanding what is being asked. He maintains he was "sent by the Old Ones" and has trouble expressing his confusion. Douglas tries to force Smith to put his thumbprint on the documents. This causes Smith to go into another semi-catatonic state of contemplation. Douglas is not happy.

Part 1, Chapter 6

Ben is convinced Smith's life (and his own) may be in danger. As Jill and Ben eat dinner together, a news program airs on stereovision—a 3D television—showing the "Man from Mars." Jill is shocked to see that the "Man from Mars" is not the one she saw in the hospital. She tells Ben he is a fake: "Oh, it looked like him. But it was not the patient I saw in that guarded room."

Ben decides he will go to the hospital with a lawyer and a Fair Witness, a person trained and licensed to be an objective observer. There Ben will demand to see Smith. He will ask Smith if he wants to leave and then make sure he is let out. Jill agrees to take care of Smith after the escape if he needs medical help. Ben says they can take Smith to the Poconos home of Jubal Harshaw, an old friend.

Analysis

The central tension—outside interests trying to exploit the childlike Man from Mars for their own gain—is heightened in these two chapters. First, Jill agrees to take part in Ben's risky venture to document the secret activities going on behind closed doors at Bethesda Hospital. This is done for two reasons. He wants a scoop for his news outlet. He is also genuinely concerned for the welfare of Smith, who seems to be at the mercy of the wheeler-dealers. Second, Jill reveals the televised Man from Mars is an imposter. This opens up the possibility the real Smith could be quietly killed or kept captive while the imposter goes on for a time before fading from public view. The urgency of seeing the real Smith and getting the secrets out in the open increases.

Suspense is heightened in these chapters through plot details, as Jill sneaks about and is almost caught. Dramatic irony is used since readers know Jill has been in to see Smith but the authorities do not. So they are not aware someone exists who can tell the difference between real and fake.

Ben's explanation of Smith's predicament introduces several interesting concepts. One is his idea the Man from Mars could be "the go-between" between humans and Martians "who could make the First Interplanetary War unnecessary." This foreshadows Smith's role as a data-collector (go-between) for the Martian Old Ones (which he learns near the end of the novel). It also foreshadows Jubal's hopeful attitude in the face of Mike's worries, as Jubal optimistically believes Mike's presence on Earth may eventually avert violence between the two planets. The second notable detail is Ben's somewhat condescending attitude toward Jill. For example, he tells her (in half-jest) "Don't talk when I'm orating" and calls her "Good girl!" This light-hearted sexism occurs throughout the novel, and today's readers are likely to find it dated and prickly.

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