Stranger in a Strange Land | Study Guide

Robert A. Heinlein

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Stranger in a Strange Land | Part 5, Chapters 34–35 : His Happy Destiny | Summary

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Summary

Part 5, Chapter 34

Up in heaven, Archangel Foster tells Digby that Smith is available now because the Martians have released him. But Digby seems to have forgotten his preoccupation with Smith. Foster remarks, "Never mind ... It's a minor martyrdom and I'll guard it myself ...." The Martian Old Ones had tapped Smith of all he had learned about humanity. Using the data, they "began ... an investigation of ... the possibility of the artistic necessity of destroying Earth."

Jubal is increasingly concerned about Smith and his church, as public sentiment is not favorable. Smith is considered by many to be a heretic. When public hostility reaches its peak, Jubal's household (now consisting of Anne, Dorcas, and Larry) learns Smith's church has burned down. Ben calls and says they are all fine and living in an "emergency Nest." Jubal prepares to go and help sort things out.

Part 5, Chapter 35

Jubal arrives at a large beach hotel that is serving as the emergency Nest. He changes and joins a group of people watching stereovision in a large living room. Ben greets him, telling him Smith is in another room deep in meditation, having escaped from jail a short time ago. Anne (with her baby Abby), Dorcas, and Larry also come to the hotel. Then Dr. Mahmoud and Miriam arrive. They had been living in Beirut but are now helping create a Martian dictionary.

Ben explains that Smith teleported them all out of the Nest when it was burning. When Jubal is astonished, Ben impatiently tells him he's the one who suggested Ben come back and be open to the existence of "miracles." Ben also explains that once Martian is learned, things like controlling body processes, teleportation, and other "miracles" are no longer magical. They are "simple" though the language is difficult to learn.

At dinner, Jubal learns more about how Smith's ideas and the "discipline" of learning Martian are likely to transform most social institutions. These include marriage, the market, education, and medicine. This, of course, will cause antagonism from those who are invested in the old ways. Later, after a bath, Jubal goes to bed, only to be joined by Dawn. She says, "I offer you water. Will you let me share and grow closer?" After some arguing, Jubal cooperates "with the inevitable."

Analysis

The short conversation between Digby and Foster in Chapter 34 confirms Jubal's concerns about Smith's movement toward martyrdom. At the same time, the conversation takes the sting out by confirming an afterlife and its eternal nature. Foster tells Digby he can pick a name to be called because he already has thousands. The afterlife becomes a place where souls may go for a time before they return to mortal life. The glimpses readers get of heaven in the novel answer the question of whether humans have "Old Ones." In any case, even if martyrdom is inevitable, the certainty of immortality is comforting.

However, although readers may know how the story will end, the characters do not. Jubal is still haunted by concerns over Smith's risky position. Ben compares Smith to the mythical Prometheus, who introduced fire to humanity. Jubal notes that "Prometheus paid a high price for bringing fire to mankind." Jubal is the only one who has worries, however. The rest seem "like kids on a night before Christmas." This suggests that while only Jubal is fearful, the others know something big is coming. Readers, Jubal, and members of the Nest all have different expectations of what is to come. This dramatic irony increases the suspense of the final chapters.

The end of Chapter 35 is a turning point for Jubal, as he has sexual intercourse with Dawn. Jubal's self-imposed celibacy has been an integral part of his identity. Giving up this long-held personal rule is difficult for Jubal. Is Jubal discovering truth and healing, or is he becoming less unique? Given the preoccupation with individuality in the early chapters of the novel, the slowly developing conformity of humans seems contradictory. Those in the Nest act as though moving to choreography. Jill and Dawn choose to change to look increasingly similar. One possibility (since Jubal can be seen as the author's representative) is Heinlein has turned his satirical gaze on himself. Perhaps he is showing the power of group conformity and institutions to override even the staunchest individualist.

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