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Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land


by Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. Heinlein structures the book into five parts:
    • His Maculate Origins
    • His Preposterous Heritage
    • His Eccentric Education
    • His Scandalous Career
    • His Happy Destiny
    What's the significance of breaking up the book into five sections? Why not just have the chapters? Also, what's with the adjectives in each section title?
  2. At many points throughout the novel, the story pulls back to give us a view of what is happening in the universe, almost like a cosmic news reel. Check out the opening of Chapter 22 for an example. What purpose do these parts serve regarding the story of Michael Smith? What do they add? If you could edit the novel, would you keep these parts in? Why or why not?
  3. Orville Prescott reviewed Stranger in a Strange Land in 1961 for the New York Times. He said "Heinlein has little gift for characterization, a flippant and heavy-breathing style, a ponderous sense of human, and a sophomoric (high school, not college), enthusiasm for sex" (source). Wow, burn. Do you agree with Mr. Prescott? Why or why not? What do you feel Prescott is not considering, and what does he get right?
  4. Heinlein chooses a satirical tone for Stranger. By satirical, we mean he uses comedy and ridicule to point out how foolish people can be. Why do you think Heinlein chose such a tone for a story dealing with such weighty topics as sexuality, love, hate, religion, politics, and cultural identity? What does this tone grant the story? What does it take away?
  5. Mike can teleport people and things to another dimension by grokking wrongness in them. If this is a person, it effectively kills them, and he does it many times throughout the novel. Is Mike's reasoning for taking a life adequate? Why or why not? 
  6. To grok means to understand someone or something so thoroughly that "you merge with it and it merges with you" (21.78). Minus the superpowers, do you think grokking is something we can do in real life, or is it only possible in a fictional world like Stranger? Why or why not? 
  7. As an author, Heinlein is sometimes criticized for not having the strongest female characters. Do you think Jill, Pat, and Dawn are strong female characters? Or for that matter, how do you feel about Anne, Miriam, and Dorcus as characters? Are they positive role models for women, negative role models, or maybe a touch of both? And, just for fun, how do you think the story would differ if Mike had been Michelle, the Woman from Mars? Would his/her philosophical views have changed? How so?

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