Stranger in a Strange Land Additional Summary

Robert A. Heinlein


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Valentine Michael Smith is conceived during a long space voyage from Earth to Mars and is born on Mars. His parents are members of the first Earth expedition to the red planet, but they are not married to each other. His mother, who is married to the expedition’s medical officer, dies during childbirth, and her husband murders Michael’s father with a scalpel and then kills himself soon afterward. The other members of the expedition also die shortly after landing, so Smith is raised by Martians. Culturally and psychologically, he becomes a Martian, much as the human Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1894) becomes a wolf when he is raised by wolves.

The outbreak of World War III prevents another expedition to Mars from being mounted for twenty-five years. When a second expedition does arrive on the planet, its members find Smith fully grown and bring him back to Earth. There, he presents a dilemma to the authorities: Through his human parents, he has inherited vast wealth, but, without human cultural understanding, he is not competent to control it. Further, under a legal oddity known as the Larkin Decision, Smith can be construed in terrestrial law as the owner of the entire planet Mars. To Joseph Douglas, the secretary-general of Earth’s global government, the World Federation of States, Smith poses a potential threat. This potential causes Smith to be isolated—as a kind of prisoner—under various ruses. The first such ruse is medical, as Smith is kept at Bethesda Medical Center.

Ben Caxton, an investigative reporter, accuses Douglas of limiting the freedom of the man from Mars and attempts to help Smith escape government custody. When Caxton’s girlfriend, Gillian Boardman, a nurse at Bethesda, stumbles on Smith’s heavily guarded hospital room, she effects the escape by disguising Smith as a nurse and taking him out of the hospital. Gillian takes Smith to Ben’s apartment, but Federation authorities have already nabbed Ben, and they close in on her and Smith. Although the agents are armed, Smith easily overcomes their force with his Martian mental powers which cause his attackers simply to disappear. Frightened, Gillian flees with Smith to the Poconos retreat of Jubal Harshaw, a famed attorney, physician, and popular author with a reputation for standing up against powerful bullies if the...

(The entire section is 959 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Stranger in a Strange Land depicts a future world that is oriented as much toward social and religious concerns as it is toward...

(The entire section is 314 words.)