Stranger in a Strange Land | Study Guide

Robert A. Heinlein

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Stranger in a Strange Land | Part 4, Chapters 32–33 : His Scandalous Career | Summary



Part 4, Chapter 32

Ben goes with Dawn to the Innermost Temple and then immerses in the pool, shares water, and "grows closer." At breakfast, Duke tells him there is a full "Water-Sharing" ceremony planned for Ben that evening. A woman named Ruth joins Duke and Ben for breakfast. She describes the ceremony for her and her husband Sam. She says, "We walked into the Innermost Temple ... and our robes were whisked away. They were in the pool calling to us in Martian to come share the water of life—and I stumbled in and submerged and haven't come up since!"

Ben takes Jill, now back in the Nest, a plate of breakfast. Then Smith arrives, still in the clothing he'd worn for the service, and joins them. Both Jill and Smith talk about Ben's Sharing Water, cuddling and caressing each other as they do. Ben finds this situation quite uncomfortable. Then Jill insists they all "Share Water" immediately. Ben is shocked to find Smith is suddenly naked.

Part 4, Chapter 33

Ben admits he got scared when Smith's clothes vanished, and ran away. He confesses, "I simply have no stomach for group orgies." Jubal chastises Ben, saying "You go into a man's house, you accept his household rules." He characterizes Ben's discomfort with the sexual norms of the Nest as a matter of taste, not morality. He notes that those living in the Nest are in a plural marriage. Jubal also suggests Ben reacted as he did out of jealousy for Jill, rather than because he was shocked at the idea of a threesome. Jubal advises Ben to go back to the Nest and give Smith's ways a chance before rejecting them entirely. Ben agrees. A week later, Jubal has not heard from Ben, and sends him a message: "What the hell are you doing?" Ben sends the reply "Studying Martian—aquafraternally yours—Ben."


Chapter 32 continues Ben's negative review of Smith's church. His tone moves from skeptical to critical. He speaks of Smith's followers as "victims." He tells Jubal he finds Smith's "new personality" concerning because it is "cocky and too much supersalesman—but very compelling." Ben says Smith seems to have too much power over the others.

The theme of language is ever-present in the novel and finds its full expression in the Church of All Worlds. It is first and foremost a language school. Yet other themes are also present. These are developed through Ben's interactions both with Smith and with Jubal. The idea is that male and female complementarity is an essential aspect of humanity. The concept is inherent in the focus on sex as the main way of "sharing water." (Although the Nest is something like a group marriage, it is made clear male-female sex is the only kind that takes place.) This essential human quality is also articulated by Smith as he shares with Ben a lesson from the sixth circle class. "We humans have something that my former people don't even dream of," he explains, saying this is "[t]he blessing of being male and female." The theme of culture and morality is also revisited as Ben struggles with what he feels is deviant or immoral behavior. Jubal suggests those in the Nest are living in "perfect morality" due to their "innocence." Jubal's opinion is similar to the Fosterite idea that it is not actions that are moral or immoral. The morality exists in the intention behind actions or the state of mind in which they are done. However, Jubal is concerned that the morality of Smith's followers is at odds with the morality of the culture. As a student of more than one religious text, Jubal is well aware of the risks of being a prophet. "Those innocents are courting martyrdom," he says.

Chapter 33 ends with the conversion of Ben Caxton. This raises the question of whether the last holdout—Jubal—will eventually convert as well. Time will tell.

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