I love Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I recently read it and discussed it with a dear friend of mine. Brilliant piece of work. It was controversial in its day, and I like that.
According to the Wikipedia entry,
“The late-1960s counterculture, popularized by the hippie movement, was influenced by its themes of individual liberty, self-responsibility, sexual freedom, and the influence of organized religion on human culture and government, and adopted the book as something of a manifesto.”
I hadn’t realized that beneath my highly professional veneer is a hippie just dying to come out….
But more than that, this book also brought some healing to my soul. While I was reading Stranger in a Strange Land, I was also reading the Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller, and some deeply suppressed emotions were being brought forth as a result – some things I was unable to cope with by myself. I commented to my friend how sometimes I felt as if I had a great weight upon my shoulders that I wished I could cast off. My friend Bruce was a little ahead of me in reading the book and when I told him, he immediately urged me to find the parts on the fallen caryatid. And I did, after I looked up what a caryatid was in the first place.
A caryatid is a Greek architectural column or pillar in the form of a sculpted female figure. Here’s what a caryatid is supposed to look like:
(image from The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Legacy of Greece)
The French sculptor, Auguste Rodin (you probably know his most famous sculpture of The Thinker), however, had sculpted his version of a caryatid.
(image from The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Legacy of Greece)
Heinlein beautifully deciphers the meaning of Rodin’s Fallen Caryatid through the eyes of Jubal Harshaw, the wise-but-cynical, “father-figure” character of the book:
This poor little caryatid has fallen under the load. She’s a good girl—look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, not blaming anyone, not even the gods…and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.
But she’s more than just good art denouncing bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who ever shouldered a load too heavy. But not alone women—this symbol means every man and woman who ever sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage…and victory.
Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn’t give up…she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her…she’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t make it but never quit.
~ Robert A. Heinlein,
Stranger in a Strange Land
I don’t know if my friend knew how much that passage meant to me. I am not sure if he truly knew how much pain I was in at the time, but what struck me was that he gave me something my heart and soul always longed for – the recognition and appreciation that I was carrying a load far too great for my shoulders. When I read the passage, tears poured out of me…and I felt so much relief, that finally, it was recognized that I had been carrying so much that grieved me and continued to affect me, even though I left most of the bad stuff behind in the past.
That was a turning point for me…I no longer felt alone in my struggles to deal with the ghosts of the past, of the abuse and soul-crushing and dream-killing oppression I thought I left behind but that didn’t leave me. It was also the beginning of the illumination of the inner recesses of my SELF, and who I am.
I don’t know why God brought my friend to me, but I am very glad and thankful that He did. I do know that God has not foresaken me. Every time I am down, every time I need a hand up, He places someone in my path for me to guide me out of the darkness. I have truly been blessed.
Heinlein is one of my favorite authors as well. My favorite so far is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
Thanks for your reply. I have been thinking of reading more of Heinlein’s works, so perhaps I’ll check that one out if I can find it at the library.
I started reading Heinlein when I was a boy, and have read every thing he has ever written. Most of them multiple times. Read Time Enough for Love, I think it was his best.
Others sometimes can understand us, but it is up to us to interpret Self. (Hesse, paraphrased…credit where credit is due)
It is not possible for any individual to fully know “how much” anything means to another. We are touched and blessed as we engage in this process–Life–by others who harmonize with us and/or pick up the melody when our voices are weak. I’m going to find me a replica of The Fallen Caryatid somewhere. Nah, I really ought to visit the Rodin Museum and see what’s left of the man for my self!
We are never alone in our struggles. The realization of common ground, integrity and shared feelings and experiences is assuring and sweet. There is a liberation that can ONLY be found in a declaration of kinship. Likewise, there will always be more than enough folks around to be embarrassed, put off, uncomfortable, harshly judgmental, less-than-understanding, and unnecessarily critical of our proclamations–when or if we make them. Strange people like us have been shunned, charred, stoned, and shot for “daring” to express “non-normative” (abnormal) ideas and feelings. There is nothing new under the sun.
Some reflection follows that was triggered by your reference to hippies, etc.
It is interesting to me that this consensus exists regarding the adoption of “Stranger in a Strange Land” as a “manifesto” for the so-called Hippie Movement. Another such adopted manifesto–“coincidentally” enough–is “Steppenwolf” (Hesse). For all of the parts of these works that resonated with and seemed applicable to The Movement, it seems to me that the Hippies missed some aspects that would have been quite anathema to their prevailing anti-establishment dogma.
I think the Hippies overlooked some very key things. And if we’re not cautious, we will too. Mike (the Stranger) was the “richest” man on TWO planets. According to the laws of Earth, he was the de facto owner and ruler of Mars. [Obviously, we’d encounter some sticking points trying to resolve Earth law with Universal law.] Accordingly, it appears that the Hippies missed the fact that Harry (the Steppenwolf) was quite a wealthy man–having enjoyed a rather lucrative writing career prior to the onset of his reported rompings in the story. Neither story disavows or discredits the need for some sort of cooperation with and involvement in the (or a) “system” in order to productively “earn” some sort of livelihood.
Some sort of selective sight (i.e. partial blindness) seems to be at work when people take–and extol–the more libertine characteristics of the stories and completely ignore the more practical (?) ones. Clearly this is a shortcoming that is evident in the contemporary plight of The Gifted. And in our rather luxurious societal arrangement, it is easy to praise the esoteric, the deviant, joyous dissolution at the expense of the mundane, the normal, and the resolute.
I have no desire to dismiss the “life of abandon and sensuality.” It is important to me to recognize the WHOLE picture. This is a multifaceted “paradigm” or dynamic. And this wholeness has escaped me for most of my life. I’m not dead yet.
Thanks for your thought provoking and genuine work here.
Actually seeing the words brings to mind the recurring theme I see in a lot of stuff…
Having butt-loads of money allows you to live “outside the box” and do all these wonderful, world-changing things. A large number of protagonists in books can attack the status quo due to wealth:
– Not only Mike, but Jubal with his eccentricities in his enclave could buck the system nonchalantly in Stranger
– All the “good guys” in Atlas Shrugged were wealthy, industry leaders
– Several other books I’ve read (I can’t cite the specifics at this second) – and even movies (Think “Iron Man”) – have rich heroes that can do amazing things when money is no object.
Are authors trying to tell us that concern over money impedes us from fully living? Or, is it more likely a plot device that allows them to move the story without nagging things like work, bills, and the ability to jump on a trans-continental flight at a moment’s notice while paying cash get in the way?
I am willing to offer my services to do an experiment of this type of thinking: I propose to develop an entirely new, earth-shattering philosophy (or even a religion if you prefer). I’ll only need about $5 Million, mansions on each coast and a fleet of nice cars (I’ll submit my list later). Anyone looking for the next Messiah can give me a call and I’ll tell you where to send the check. Give me several years to acclimate to not needing to work for money, and I’m sure I’ll think up some wonderful new things.
[I] Can think about red,
[I] can think about pink.
[I] can think up a horse.
Oh, the THINKS [I] can think
(my apologies to dear Dr. Seuss)
I am pressed for time in properly responding to your thoughts, Papa T, but I have to say this is wonderful:
How does the old adage go? A burden shared is a burden halved?
With regards to the hippie reference, this was meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek poke at myself and perhaps it needs further exploration. Or not.
I am caught between two desires – the practical and the creative side of me. I’ve always been a “free spirit” at heart yet grounded in a pragmatic outlook and approach to life.
And on and on the debate within my heart and head rages…what to do with my life next? Do I follow my head and go back into practical science or do I follow my heart and lead a more creative life?
But fortunately, I do not have to make a decision about that today.
And Harry Haller thought he was “merely” a man-wolf.
Excellent points! I think that in some cases, the existing riches and benefactors (Bruce Wayne’s inheritance just popped into my head…), along with the mansions and bottomless pockets, are simple plot devices. Yet, in some others, I think the mention and description is intentional, pertinent, and “part of the whole.” Of course it is not possible for me to say for sure in any given instance.
You wrote: “Are authors trying to tell us that concern over money impedes us from fully living?” That’s a tough question to answer. You may have meant this as rhetorical but, when I read it, I thought about Siddhartha (as in the Hesse book by the same name). I’m still considering the angles presented in the book, and it looks to me like Hesse might answer the question with a “yes…and no.” Siddhartha seems to “do without” and gain riches with comparative ease. It reminded me of the passage in the Bible that speaks of learning to be content in any state one might find himself. An ideal that I can’t claim to have attained–for sure.
Personally, I wonder if it’s possible for one to acclimate to “laborless” wealth and still be a part of our society. Perhaps so, but I seriously doubt if I could “get there.”
…And Dr. Seuss would probably be flattered. What a fitting quote.
I really enjoy the rare treat of seeing you pop in and share your perspective. Thanks for giving me more food for thought…again.
>I hadn’t realized that beneath my highly professional veneer is a hippie just dying to come out….
Ha! Heinlein is hardly hippie material. 🙂
Yes, he dabbled with socialist ideas (as most folks did in his day), but ultimately he was a war hawk and self-determinationist. To me, the caryatid he’s describing through his protagonist in this scene sounds like a model of Dagny from Atlas Shrugged.
This happens with all art, of course — it’s a Rorschach test for what’s on the reader’s mind. Liberals see his personal freedoms; conservatives see his self-made-man stuff; and they’re both right.
This makes me want to read his stuff again. Heck, I don’t think I have since high school. And, now that I’m unemployed, I’ll have a little more time to do just that. 🙂
But, not too much. Looking for a job is, itself, a job.
As far as most of my politics go, I’m all for having the government stay the F*** out of my bizness. If I screw up, then it’s up to me to solve the problems of my life, not the government’s.
I lived under a totalitarian regime in my family of origin. I am not really joking. I spent a great deal of time analyzing my family situation and really recognized that the iron-fisted rule of my patriarchial grandfather turned my mother into quite the megalomaniac as she projected all her undealt-with crap onto us kids. I have thought my mother had narcissistic tendencies, but I also realized that was a limited view of her. When I was in high school, I compared and contrasted the ideologies of various forms of government through a series of novel analysis and essay writing. I had my mother pegged pretty accurately when I called her a megalomaniac. Why I downgraded her to a mere narcissist I do not know…
I found this quote from Betrand Russell. I may have to write a new post about it.
But she went even beyond that…she was a bit sociopathic in her treatment of me and her handling of my relationships with young men (she herself was a man-hater as a result of her poor choices in husbands). And the gaslighting that went on in my household…it almost got to be that could not take a crap without fear of causing an uproar. Difficult stuff.
My mother…boy she was a force to be reckoned with. She was, just like my grandfather (who was a pretty ruthless lawyer and was a general contractor on the side), a ball breaker in her relations with people. For the past 20 years, she’s sat on the school board of her local school, ALMOST thought about running for local government, and managed to finagle her way onto the Board of Directors for a major “entertainment” type company. She is a power hungry freakazoid.
Anyway, long story short…
To deal with her, I had to fight my way out of the system. I escaped…barely…with hardly much of anything.
I didn’t become a raging liberal as knee-jerk response to that upbringing. On the contrary, I was quite uptight and rigidly conformed to rules for the longest time – probably one of the major reasons why I chose applied science as a career path – everything was ordered, rigid and consistent. I felt very calmed by that environment. It took many years to deprogram from the familial brainwashing, but the scientific path afforded me the safety and consistency I needed.
I carved a path for myself out of hard work, choosing a financial stable career path for myself, taking calculated risks, and dealing with the consequences whatever they might be. And I value personal freedoms – if I can’t be free, then kill me. That almost happened when I was 18…but that’s a story for another day.
So, yeah, Stranger in a Strange Land appealed to me for the liberal AND conservative views it depicted.
It ALSO gave me some peace of mind with regards to how I viewed God. I’m not going to go on a religious tangent yet…but an idea is germinating in me about that very topic.
> > > Ha! Heinlein is hardly hippie material. 🙂
> > > Yes, he dabbled with socialist ideas (as most folks did in his day), but ultimately he was a war hawk and self-determinationist.
I would say that Heinlein–at least via his character development and expression–“dabbled” more in Communist ideas. But the distinction is possibly so slight as to be impertinent. For me the major distinction is the transitional nature of Socialism–the “process” whereby, in our case, we are being led from a leaning toward individualism into a leaning toward collectivism. It relies more on perpetrating a sort of “perpetual unrest” in a population so that Communism can be established. In other words, Socialism is the means used to shake apart “order” that it might be re-ordered…into a Great Collective. [In some cases trading one Elite Totalitarianism for another.]
Lenin may have “said it best”: “Socialism is bound sooner or later to ripen into Communism, whose banner bears the motto: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.'” (1917)
I am fascinated that you seem to contrast (e.g. “but ultimately he was a war hawk”) what you perceive to be Heinlein’s “Socialistic ideation” against your suggestion that he had an affinity for war. When has Socialism ever gained strength without war? When have individual rights ever been gained, or kept, without occasional “scuffles?” Surely anyone truly devoted to self-determination would NOT embrace Socialism (or Communism, or Fascism, or rabid Capitalism for that matter). So I’m left a tad bit confused here.
> > > To me, the caryatid he’s describing through his protagonist in this scene sounds like a model of Dagny from Atlas Shrugged.
Dagny Taggart is a plausible candidate for “Fallen Caryatid” status. As could anyone who has suffered, or perceived him or her self to have “fallen under under a load.”
> > > This happens with all art, of course — it’s a Rorschach test for what’s on the reader’s mind. Liberals see his personal freedoms; conservatives see his self-made-man stuff; and they’re both right.
I assume that here you mean that this is “what happens” when all art is viewed, or heard, or read, or touched, or smelled, or tasted AFTER the artist took to any given medium to express him or her self in such a way. Indeed. The tendency is for the “recipient” of the artful expression to experience it as a reflection of his own perspective, need, desire, lack, or what have you. Artists can be intentionally or unintentionally provocative. I know that my own “expressions in art” possess a dynamic blend of the two.
Truly, as you say, both the “liberal” and the “conservative” would be “right” in their gleaning. Yet, to have a “right” there must be a “wrong.” It is the burden of such a focus on right and wrong that Heinlein’s expressions (among others that I am currently enjoying) are helping me to resolve.
> > > This makes me want to read his stuff again. Heck, I don’t think I have since high school. And, now that I’m unemployed, I’ll have a little more time to do just that. 🙂 But, not too much. Looking for a job is, itself, a job.
You DEFINITELY have my empathy here. I hope you are successful in your job of looking for a job…and richly blessed with fulfillment as a result of it. I’m confident that you will make time to read what you want and need to read along the way. [D$%#, I wish I had read Heinlein in high school! …Instead of, or at least in addition to, now as a loony fifty-one-year-old grad school student/grandfather.]
Thanks for the stimulating retort…and BEST WISHES!
Yes, best wishes on your job hunt Rick. I’m praying for you.
Mr. Chappelle, my old high school history teacher and the very first major influence on my life, would be so delighted to know I’ve never forgotten his teachings. This discussion makes me so nostalgic. I wonder what the old chap is up to these days (hopefully not passed on).
Your post really got me to thinking…and poking around for more information on the man, Robert Heinlein. Interesting stuff. Have you ever read the Asimov quote pertaining to Heinlein’s shifting political views? I grinned a little twice-divorced, jaded, tainted, formerly-hen-pecked-and-still-sometimes-missing-the-hen smile at his account.
….I can’t explain Heinlein [as someone who simply echoes another person’s views], for I cannot believe he would follow his wives’ opinions blindly. I used to brood about it in puzzlement (of course, I never would have dreamed of asking Heinlein — I’m sure he would have refused to answer, and would have done so with the uttermost hostility), and I did come to one conclusion. I would never marry anyone who did not generally agree with my political, social, and philosophical view of life.
Ain’t love grand? 😉
Love IS grand…
The proposition of marriage…well, that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax that has it’s share of complications on the thinking/creative life and it’s something I’m not going to touch with a 10 ft pole.
I feel strongly touched, both by you and by that passage. I hope you find healing.
Thank you for the kind sentiment.
Life is a dance that you learn as you go…right?
And I’m getting better all the time. Thanks so much for wonderful thoughts.
Hi, just ran into this searching for Rodin’s Caryatid, but your comments about what this did you to really affected me, I hope my daughter can learn to pass on things to her daughters as well as you are expressing them here.
To have a clear understanding of Heinlein, acquire his book THE EXPANDED UNIVERSE. He adds forewards to many of his stories, and adds background on the creative processes and future predictions for the Earth’s population.
Thanks Michael. I’ll have to check it out.
Late to the discussion but – may you never thirst! ‘Stranger’ is a hugely important book in our lives and Heinlein’s works, overall, essential reading and re-reading material in this house.
I totally agree that Jubal’s assessment of Rodin’s work is spot on – he groks.