Stranger in a Strange Land | Study Guide

Robert A. Heinlein

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Stranger in a Strange Land | Part 3, Chapters 28–29 : His Eccentric Education | Summary



Part 3, Chapter 28

Up in heaven, Digby is upset by the audacity of Smith and the fact Patty called Smith "Archangel." His angelic supervisor, Foster, calms him down, saying "How do you know he isn't, Junior? ... our brother Michael seems to be away." Foster takes a moment to reminisce about Patty and admire the finished tattoos her husband George had done. He decides to look George up. He is now a "creative artist in the universe design section, working right under the Architect." Foster reprimands Digby for being too concerned with Smith.

Part 3, Chapter 29

After Patty leaves, Jill and Smith take a bus out of town. After a short visit to Jubal's, they end up in Las Vegas. Smith tries gambling, then being a croupier, to try and understand the human desire to gamble. Jill gets a job as a showgirl, which she finds she enjoys, to her surprise. She decides she likes being looked at by men. This gives her insight into why Duke likes to look at pornographic photos—looking and being looked at are complementary. Smith doesn't understand either impulse. He accompanies Jill to her job to watch the floor show, after which he has more insight.

The two move on to Palo Alto, then to San Francisco. Smith reads all sorts of religious texts and visits all sorts of churches, but he admits not understanding the "multiplicity of religions." He notes on Mars, there is only one religion. It is expressed as a certainty that translates inadequately into English as "Thou art God."

They decide to go visit Patty at her home in Baja, California. But before they leave, Smith insists on going to the zoo, one of his favorite pastimes. There, they witness a large monkey beat and steal a peanut from a smaller monkey, who then goes and beats a still smaller monkey. Suddenly Smith begins to laugh uproariously. After he has calmed down, he tells Jill he now groks people, love, and laughter. He says, "I've found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts ... because it's the only thing that'll make it stop hurting." Now that Smith groks people, he wants to help them. He asks Jill what he needs to do to be ordained.


These chapters continue to develop the idea of Smith as a religious leader. It is interesting to note his attempts to better understand humanity are mainly focused on its seedy underside. Con men, carnivals, casinos, strip shows, and pornography are the experiences he seeks in order to grok what makes humans tick. Even the zoos Smith enjoys caused him distress when he first encountered them. This suggests two things. First, it evokes a parallel with Jesus, who famously spent time with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other "sinners." Second, it suggests humanity is more defined by its vices than its virtues. Experiencing its vices will give Smith more insight into humanity than spending time with, say, hard-working farmers or philanthropists.

To try and make sense of all of the input he receives from his travels and experiences, Smith studies human religions. This, too, is a way to understand humanity. In contrast to Mars, which has one religion that isn't a religion at all, humans have many religions. On Mars, the dead are still present and knowable, while on Earth the afterlife is uncertain and unknowable. So for Smith to grok people, he will not only have to explain their vices. He will also have to understand their uncertainty regarding death and the afterlife.

This all comes to a head at the zoo, as Smith witnesses an unprovoked act of violence. One monkey inflicts pain on another for no reason connected to his victim, but only because he was victimized by another. Smith laughs at this, not because it is nice, but because it hurts. At this turning point, he understands that humans have humor because they have pain. The biggest source of pain, of course, is death, and thus there are many jokes about dying. Once Smith groks people and their pain, he realizes he knows how to heal that pain. This is the end of his "eccentric education," because he has filled in the missing pieces in his understanding of humanity. He has learned to laugh, and knows what he needs to do next.

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