Stranger in a Strange Land Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

Stranger in a Strange Land appeared well after Robert Heinlein had established himself as a science-fiction writer. The novel won the 1962 Hugo Award, the third such award Heinlein had received. Much of Heinlein’s work prior to this novel, especially from the period from 1947 to 1959, had been science fiction for juvenile readers.

Although many writers acknowledge their debt to Heinlein, the only writer Heinlein claimed as an influence on his own writing was Sinclair Lewis. Stranger in a Strange Land certainly replicates Lewis’ concerns about the shallowness and complacency of American life, and the corrupt leadership of the Fosterite Church emphasizes some of the misgivings about religious leadership Lewis portrayed in Elmer Gantry (1927). As a young science-fiction writer, however, Heinlein, along with many others, was influenced by John W. Campbell, Jr., the editor of Astounding Science-Fiction, and Campbell’s policy of stressing the sociological implications of changes brought about by advances in technology.

Although the novel has been interpreted and reacted to in different ways, most interpretations and reactions have centered on the sociological implications for change in religion and spirituality, politics and government, economics and the distribution of wealth, social relationships, and lifestyles, all of which the novel highlights. Almost every social institution and structure—the government, the medical establishment, the military, the media, advertising, literary publishing, and especially repressive religious beliefs and practices—comes under fire from Jubal’s stinging diatribes. Mike’s countercul-tural beliefs and the liberating and transforming practices of the church he establishes offer an alternative to the alienating religious precepts and the somewhat contradictory, self-delusional, superficially gratifying orientation of American society. Mike’s alternative is so idealized that its realization is confined to a small group, whose members will be misunderstood and hounded by an outraged, cynical, threatened majority. The group of disciples that Mike gathers remains intact at the end, and the reader is compelled to grapple with possibilities perhaps never before suspected or imagined.