H. G. Wells

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The Stolen Bacillus

Critically analyze the story "the stolen bacillus"

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H.G. Wells's "The Stolen Bacillus" is a satirical short story about the potential role of science and scientists in facilitating bio-terrorism.  This is done by having a very intelligent bacteriologist being ignorant about the consequences of his work.  I often think that some scientists are so involved with whether or not they can do something that they do not bother considering whether or not they should do something. Wells is making that exact point with the bacteriologist in the story.  The character is obviously intelligent when it comes to his field.  He is capable of working with these dangerous biologicals, and he understands how easily they could wipe out a population, but he doesn't consider that someone might actually do it.  He's ignorant about motivations of people like the anarchist. 

The anarchist steals a vial of bacteria and runs out.  The bacteriologist runs after the man. His wife is appalled at his appearance and runs after her husband with his shoes, coat, and hat.  The anarchist breaks and ingests the bacteria, and the scientist lets him go.  

It turns out the bacteria is not a population killing machine.  The only reason the bacteriologist gave chase was because he didn't want to have to start his work over again. The final few paragraphs really drive home the satire of the story, because Wells does a great job of portraying the bacteriologist as an absent minded professor.  He's unaware of his clothing appearance.  He is bothered by the "trouble and expense of preparing some more" bacteria.  He is not at all concerned about the possibility that the anarchist very well could have gotten a hold of some very deadly disease.  Wells really makes his reader consider the fact that it is possible that there are scientists working all over the place with a variety of deadly concoctions with no consideration for security or the potential consequences of their work. 

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Discuss "The Stolen Bacillus" as a science fiction story.

"The Stolen Bacillus" belongs to the genre of science fiction and, to understand why, it is useful to look at a relevant definition. According to the University of California, for example, a science fiction story is one which presents an "alternative world" (see the reference link provided). In "The Stolen Bacillus," the setting is London but it is a very different London to the one which Wells' readers were accustomed to. In Wells' London, for instance, the city is at risk from anarchists who use deception to wage biological warfare by poisoning the water supply. 

In addition, science fiction stories have very distinctive character types, like "the scientist" and "the action hero" (see the reference link provided) and "The Stolen Bacillus" is no exception. Wells conforms to these character types by creating "the Anarchist" and "the Bacteriologist," two typical yet contrasting character types who also create the story's central conflict.

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Find the humor in the story "The Stolen Bacillus."

In "The Stolen Bacillus" by H.G. Wells there is humor because of the dramatic irony that occurs at various points in the story. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience has more insight...

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about the true nature of a situation than a character has. In this story there are three main examples of it.

The first example has to do with the Bacteriologist running out the door without hat, coat, or shoes. Thinking that "that horrid science of his" has driven him mad, his wife chases him with the outdoor apparel so that he will not be seen in public in his socks. She does not understand the real reason he left so hastily, and thinks he is merely eccentric. But the reader knows that the Bacteriologist had to leave so urgently in order to try to catch the Anarchist who stole one of his vials.

The second example is during the cab chase. As the Bacteriologist chases the Anarchist and Minnie chases the Bacteriologist, they are observed by a small group of other cab drivers who find their chase entertaining but have no idea about either the Bacteriologist's urgent mission or Minnie's errand. They see that the drivers are using whips and then place bets and cheer for them as though it is a race. The reader knows the true purposes of all three cabs' haste.

The third example is at the end of the story after Minnie has caught up to her husband. He reveals to her that the stolen vial does not in fact contain any cholera but instead a bacterium that turns living creatures blue. The Anarchist has just exposed himself to its contents and then gone off down the street believing that he is going to poison everyone with cholera. But the Bacteriologist suggests that the Anarchist will actually turn blue rather than die or contaminate anybody with cholera. What could have been a serious outbreak of a deadly disease will result instead in nothing more than the Anarchist (and perhaps everyone else he managed to infect) looking ridiculous.

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