Study Guide

Stranger in a Strange Land Transformation

By Robert A. Heinlein


"Woman, here, by the grace of God and an inside straight, we have a personality untouched by the psychotic taboos of our tribe—and you want to turn him into a copy of every fourth-rate conformist in this frightened land!" (12.11)

Apparently wearing clothes makes you a conformist. Well, it's official: Shmoop is full of conformists. Casual conformists, but conformists no less. In any case, Jill tries to teach Mike the customs of Earth, demonstrating that sometimes transformations are placed on us by people who aren't even aware of their attempts to transform us.

"I have learned two ways to tie my shoes. One way is only good for lying down. The other way is good for walking." (12.59)

For Mike, learning slowly but surely transforms him into a human. Mistakes go doubly-so.

"I will try. But words are… are not… rightly. Not 'putting.' Not 'mading.' A nowing. World is. World was. World shall be. Now." (14.124)

Mike obviously transforms and grows throughout the novel, yet here, he might be suggesting that transformation and change don't actually occur. If there is only the present, then does transformation actually take place? Hmmm.

At this point the being sprung from human genes and shaped by Martian thought, who could never be either, completed one stage of his growth, burst out and ceased to be a nestling. (24.124)

One sentence, sure, but a key point in Mike's transformation. His human genes and Martian thought seem to blend during this coming-of-age in a unique and individual way. And after all, it's the blending of individual and culture that cause many of the transformations in the novel.

"[Foster] borrowed from Freemasonry, Catholicism, the Communist Party, and Madison Avenue just as he borrowed from earlier scriptures in composing his New Revelation." (27.124)

The growth of a Fosterism comes from the sampling of various other religions and institutions and transforming them to fit into a cohesive whole. Mike's Church of All Worlds takes a similar stance, drawing from Mike's experiences on Earth. Read carefully and tell us: which of Mike's experiences combine to form the basis of the Church?

The Man from Mars kissed his new brother first on her mouth, then kissed the spot Foster had kissed. He pondered, briefly by Earth time, picked a corresponding spot on the other side where George's design could be match—kissed her there […] Mrs. Paiwonski looked down. Marked on her, paired stigmata in blood red, were his lips. (27.209-211)

Pat's tattoos are a physical representation of the transformations she undergoes as a person. Each one depicts an event or experience that changed her. In a way, they parallel the way Mike's body transforms from boyish to manly as his world experiences change him, too.

"Anybody can see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl she used to be. A great artist can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is…" (30.47)

Jubal discusses the transformative power of art. Art borrows from real life and then transforms it into something different yet recognizable. (Yeah, Jubal's deep.) Wonder at what level Jubal would consider Mike's message to be?

"The truth can't be stated in English any more than Beethoven's Fifth can be." (31.177)

If the truth can't be stated in English, then the disciples of the Church of All Worlds must learn to think in Martian. But, as we saw in the "Language and Communication" theme section, to think in a language is to change your "map" of the world. That means that access to the truth is only available to those who transform themselves in order to receive it.

"But consider any occupation. How can a teacher handle a child who knows more than she does? What becomes of physicians when people are healthy? What happens to the cloak and suit industry when clothing isn't necessary […] Just name it; the discipline changes it beyond recognition." (35.242)

Sam considers how the transformation of the individual creates a domino effect that alters society as a whole. The trick is to get enough people to transform with you. Whereas Sam believes the Church of All Worlds is off to a good start, Mike doesn't think so until he talks with Jubal.

He went over to the range, glanced into the pan Duke was stirring. It held a small amount of broth. "Hmm…Mike?"

"Yup." Duke dipped out a little in the spoon, tasted it. "Needs a little salt."

"Yes, Mike always did need a little seasoning." Jubal took the spoon and tasted the broth. Duke was correct; the flavor was sweet and could have used salt. "But let's grok him as he is." (38.52-54)

Mike soup. Yum. As seen with Jill in quote 1, people transform others to suit their customs, or in this case, their palates. Here, Duke and Jubal both believe the Mike broth needs salt, but they refrain from literally transforming Mike, so they can taste him as he is. Symbolic much?