Study Guide

Stranger in a Strange Land Tradition and Customs

By Robert A. Heinlein

Tradition and Customs

Tradition! Tradition! (Tradition!) Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't live without 'em. In Stranger in a Strange Land, Mike finds himself constantly in opposition to the customs of humanity. His Martian mind can't comprehend why people would see things—say, cannibalism—differently than he does. Meanwhile, other characters, even Mike's companions like Jill and Ben, are unknowingly under the power of tradition. It guides their actions, putting them in opposition with Mike for reasons they themselves don't fully understand. Enter Jubal Harshaw. Jubal's willingness to question the "common sense" reasoning behind tradition and custom allows him to see beyond the tyranny of custom. And his crotchety old man attitude means you know he'll tell everyone what's on his mind.

Questions About Tradition and Customs

  1. What traditions and customs does Mike rebel against by creating the Church of All Worlds? What new traditions and customs take their place?
  2. Jubal constantly questions the traditions and customs of others but admits he has some of his own. What are they? Does he question them with the same thoroughness with which he questions other people's customs? Does he have any traditions or customs he does not discuss but you can find evidence for in the novel?
  3. The social traditions and customs of Stranger in a Strange Land are very reminiscent of American customs in the 1950s. Pick a custom or tradition that Stranger seems to be arguing against. In what way has this tradition or custom changed since Stranger was written? In what has it stayed the same?
  4. Think of a cherished tradition you have. It could be something as simple as writing Christmas instead of X-mas or something as complex as why you believe one country's government to be better than another. Now, imagine that belief from a Martian's point of view. What questions arise regarding this tradition? How would you answer these questions?

Chew on This

Ben did not alter his customs when joining the Church of All Worlds. His lifestyle before joining followed the same rules of sexual promiscuity and individualism—joining just made him realize this fact.

The carnival is the closest the novel comes to presenting a custom-free society, since the carnival must blend its customs to those of the town it is visiting.

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