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In Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Jubal thinks he sees Mike cut off one of his fingers while cutting up an apple.

He handed the glass to Anne, then took the fruit knife and sliced off a chunk of apple. It seemed to Jubal that Mike sliced off one of his fingers... but his attention was distracted as Duke passed the glass to him. Mike's hand was not bleeding and Jubal had grown somewhat accustomed to legerdemain.

So Jubal dismissed this as some sort of trick. But what is the point of it? I don't see it referenced anywhere else in the story.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 21 down vote accepted

This is a reference to the Last Supper---there is a lot of oblique reference to the end of the story of Christ in the last chapters of the book.

Mike is going out to be martyred. Or at least to have his body martyred as he discorporates in the martian fashion.

Though it takes place off stage, we know that the finger is subsequently cooked into a soup to be shared by the whole nest---the last bit is held out for Jubal and carefully tended until he wakes.

So this incident is the Communion story of eating the body of the prophet/god.

Again, none of this is made explicit; one of the few times Heinlein indulges in "literary" writing rather than keeping the message close to the surface.


The lack of blood or pain is a feature of Mike's martian powers. Neither is necessary or desirable so he simple doesn't allow there to be a problem.

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1  
Aha! It makes sense now. I should have waited until I grokked in fullness. –  anthony-arnold Mar 28 at 22:27
    
@anthony-arnold But if you had waited, we wouldn't have had this question to entertain us. –  Aaron Hall Mar 29 at 19:07

A couple sections later (xxxviii in my edition) Duke is stirring a small saucepan that holds a small amount of broth. Jubal asks, "Hmm... Mike?" And Duke answers, "Yup." Jubal and Duke share the broth. A communion with Mike. It was my understanding that the broth had been made from the finger Mike had left with Duke.

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This is an attempt by Heinlein to show how a group, where every member of that group is capable of performing "miracles", would live on a day to day basis. The knife did, in fact go through Mike's finger, but there was no harm as Mike made it so that there was no damage and his finger was fully repaired immediately afterword. In this scene, Jubal is the only member of the group who is not capable of this exact same feat, and so he's the only one that even noticed.

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