Stranger in a Strange Land | Study Guide

Robert A. Heinlein

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Stranger in a Strange Land | Part 2, Chapters 17–18 : His Preposterous Heritage | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 17

Shortly after Jubal's telephone conversation ends, two things happen: more air cars arrive, and Secretary General Douglas calls. Jubal shocks Douglas by claiming to be the attorney for the Man from Mars and "Ambassador from Mars ... in the spirit of the Larkin Decision." Douglas is on the phone when his own men, whom Jubal calls "S.S. hooligans" break through Jubal's locked front door. As the officers enter the room, the Secretary General confronts them from the screen.

It turns out they are following up on the officers who went ahead of them, but who have not reported back. Jubal feigns ignorance. Since there is no evidence remaining of the previous visit, the officers are forced to leave. Jubal arranges for Smith to meet with the Secretary General for a discussion of "interplanetary relations," but stipulates the meeting can only take place with Ben Caxton present. Douglas grudgingly agrees to help find Ben. After the call, everyone feels celebratory. The four women give Smith some practice in kissing and everyone has drinks by the pool. Jubal allows the news station an exclusive interview with the Man from Mars. Douglas calls back to say Ben Caxton has been located and will be delivered to Jubal's house. Ben arrives, extremely drunk without having had a drink, and without any memory of the past week. Everyone eventually goes off to bed.

Part 2, Chapter 18

A day later, Ben is feeling better and, after coming to terms with Jill's feelings for Smith, becomes his water brother. Jubal brings Ben up to speed on the legal and political nuances of Smith's position. He explains to Ben what he has learned about Martian ideas of property ownership and immortality. He tells Ben he has a plan to make sure Smith remains protected from those who would exploit or kill him for political gain. He asks Ben to "sniff it for political feasibility."


Chapters 17 and 18 are driven mainly by Jubal's maneuverings. Jubal manages to use a combination of name-dropping, bluffing, and steamrolling to get Secretary General Douglas to call him and agree to a meeting. He uses the same approaches to humiliate the officers who arrive at his home and to get Ben Caxton back. In contradiction with his stated intention to live life and mind his own business, Jubal seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself interfering with other people's affairs. One of the puzzling things about Jubal is his unabashed embrace of these kinds of contradictions. He wants to be left alone, but he loves attention. He thinks Smith's ideas about the Old Ones and cannibalism are sincere and worthy of respect. He also thinks they are silly and misguided. Readers should be mindful of these tensions and consider whether they are resolved by the end of the novel.

It is interesting to note the characteristics of Jubal's household. The scene by the pool is bacchanalian: everyone is drinking, eating, and kissing. It is also welcoming: even the reporters, when they arrive after word gets out the Man from Mars is there, are invited into the party. This, readers will find, is not completely unlike Smith's Nest when he establishes the Church of All Worlds.

Finally, this section introduces the Martian idea of property and the ways it contrasts with human ideas. Jubal explains the problem to Ben: "As may be, our lad Mike can't own anything because the 'Old Ones' already own everything. So I have trouble explaining to him that he owns over a million shares of Lunar Enterprises, plus the Lyle Drive, plus assorted chattels and securities." Although Jubal had no difficult explaining Mike's beliefs in cannibalism and other cultural taboos to a human, he has trouble explaining human customs such as "property" to a Martian. He finds himself in the same linguistic crisis that plagues Mike as he tries to explain concepts such as water, grok, and God. The difficulty, in part, is that Smith's own language does not contain a similar word because the culture does not contain a similar concept. The fundamental problem with language goes both ways. The problem is also that as familiar as Jubal is with human culture, he has no knowledge of Martian culture and therefore no basis on which to create common ground with Mike.

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