Stranger in a Strange Land | Study Guide

Robert A. Heinlein

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Stranger in a Strange Land | Part 2, Chapters 15–16 : His Preposterous Heritage | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 15

Smith swims to the bottom of the pool and waits, stretching his time sense out so that time flows more slowly. As he meditates, he considers how the word "God" seems to express a basic Martian understanding—clear to him but difficult to express in human words. In the midst of this meditation he becomes aware that something is wrong. He knows Jubal told him to wait until Jill came for him, but he decides this only applies to his body, not his self. So he leaves his body at the bottom of the pool and watches as the air cars land. He carefully examines the scene: the men have guns and the cars are also filled with more guns. He sees the men approach Jill with the guns, and gives them each "that tiny twist which causes to topple away." He then does the same to the other men and to the air cars. As his friends react with shock, he slips back into his body. Soon, Jill retrieves him from under the water.

Part 2, Chapter 16

While Jill is getting Smith out of the water, Jubal prepares to deal with repercussions. To his frustration he learns the television news cameras he thought were recording the whole scene are not working. Jubal reflects on what he just witnessed. He knows Smith was behind it, but he's not sure how. He decides to lock all the doors and windows and tries again to call Secretary General Douglas. He learns that Agnes Douglas consults an astrologer, Madame Vesant. This is good news, as "Becky Vesey" is an old friend of Jubal's. He tells her he needs to talk to Secretary General Douglas right away and that the Man from Mars is his client. Madame Vesant calls Agnes and convinces her to intervene. Agnes agrees.


Revelations of Smith's abilities continue in the confrontation between Jubal and the Federation officers. In a scene quite similar to the confrontation in Ben's apartment, Smith sees "wrongness." He is able to make the people and objects that possess this wrongness disappear. As Jubal and the others learned during their on-camera experiment with the box, the men, their cars, and their guns have become "not." Smith is not bound by the natural laws humans believe are absolute, such as the conservation of matter. To his ability to make matter nonexistent, now he adds the ability to do this while moving around without his body.

The problems of language are constantly on Smith's mind. He has to navigate the space between two very different languages and attempt to express Martian certainties in English words. He observes "long human words rarely changed their meanings but short words were slippery, changing without pattern ... Short human words were like trying to lift water with a knife." Among the most problematic words in English is, of course, God. Smith is sure this is the best human word to express a very simple Martian concept. He still struggles to define it without using other Martian words. Yet this struggle is an important one. Smith's struggle to bridge the gap between Martian and human language continues through the very last chapters of the book.

However, "slippery" English words provide a way for Smith to reconcile his desire to be with the others who are in trouble. The words also allow him to obey Jubal's command to stay under the water. He opts for a very literal interpretation, concluding "Jubal had not ordered him to stay with his body." This conclusion may stem from Jubal's instruction to "Hide in the pool!" (Chapter 14). Hiding implies placing yourself out of sight and therefore applies to the physical self, not the mind or spirit.

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