Stranger in a Strange Land
by Robert A. Heinlein
Education is very important—we can all agree on that, right? But Stranger seems to suggest that a worthwhile education is more than just a degree. Characters with specialized education are still intelligent and good at what they do, but their narrow education leads to a narrow outlook on life. Joe Douglas sees everything through the lens of politics, and Digby has a hard time accepting ideas outside the scope of his religion—even when the founder of his religion is telling him to loosen up.
Meanwhile, characters like Mike and Jubal study and read everything, regardless of their jobs. Jubal is a writer, but he has knowledge of the law, medicine, sculpture, literature, philosophy, and gourmet food. Perhaps Heinlein said it best in another of his novels, Time Enough for Love: "Specialization is for insects." (Intermission.72)
Clothing (Or Lack Thereof)
Just like in every high school ever, clothes indicate social alignment and function in Stranger. Followers of Mike's philosophy don't wear clothes since Mike groks that "they're a wrongness that keeps people apart" (31.201). Those following more traditional social rules—like Jubal, and Ben before joining the church—wear clothes.
For social function, Anne must wear her robes for her to legally be a Fair Witness. She may think like a Fair Witness 24/7, but without the robes, she isn't considered one.
Many of the characters' names suggest their personalities or roles in the story. Here are a few examples:
- Michael means "who is like God," and his life has a lot of parallels to Jesus'. See the "What's Up With the Title?" section for more information on connections between Jesus and Mike.
- Jubal means "ram's horn," and, yeah, he's stubborn as a ram and willing to butt heads with anyone, any time.
- Gillian (Jill) means "Child of the gods." She becomes one of Mike's high priestesses. During one Church of All Worlds service, Mike refers to her as "'Frigg!'…'Ge!'…'Devil'…'Ishtar!'…'Maryam!'" (31.124) and a host of other god/goddess names.
- And Rebecca—Madame Vesant's first name—means "to tie or connect." This lady serves as Agnes's connection to the stars as an astrologer, but more importantly, she connects Jubal to Joe Douglas in Chapter 16.
Of course, this might not work with all names. For example, Digby means "farm by a ditch." Not sure what to do with that one.
Remember how Alex Mack could turn into goo and slide under doors? Well, this has nothing to do with that. Just kidding—it kind of does. Kind of.
Once a character knows the Martian language, they have the ability to change reality with their thoughts, conscious and subconscious. These thoughts can lead to physical changes, such as Dawn and Jill beginning to look alike when they both become high priestesses (31.189). So physical appearances can inform you of a character's state of mind.
Patty can actually alter her physical appearance before learning the Martian language. When Mike first meets her, she is fifty but looks thirty. She attributes this to her faith in Fosterism, but Mike knows she can "think her body as she wished it, whether she attributes it to Foster or not" (27.112). Turns out it is the outlook on life, not necessarily the Martian language itself, that truly brings about the change.