H. G. Wells Questions and Answers

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What is the theme of "The Stolen Bacillus," and how is it relevant in present times?

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Jonathan Beutlich, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think this short story has a couple of themes that are applicable in today's society and culture. The first deals with the science itself. "The Stolen Bacillus" presents readers with a scientist who is working with materials that are potentially cataclysmic killers. This is true of scientists today; however, the story shows readers a scientist that is basically an absent-minded professor. He takes very little caution regarding the information that he hands out to the anarchist. Wells also shows the scientist similar to a buffoon in the way that he chases after the anarchist. The chase is completely comical and in no way mimics the severity of the situation that we think is actually happening. I always find myself thinking that this particular scientist should not be allowed to work with such potentially horrible weapons. He may be smart enough to do the work, but I wonder whether or not he questions whether or not he should do the work. That is a dangerous thought. I always want to know that scientists are not only asking if something is possible, but also asking if something should be done in the first place.

The other theme that I think is relevant to present times is more widely applicable. There is definitely a theme of things not being what they appear. The anarchist at first appears harmless, but he winds up being someone that intends to hopefully kill thousands of people. The bacteria itself at first appears to readers as a city killer, but it winds up being basically harmless. This theme of things not being what they first appear could be related to old sayings like "don't judge a book by its cover," but that notion could also apply to a new student in school or your new boss. Finally, this theme also leads to other popular pieces of advice that tell you to stay away from deals that appear too good to be true.

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Thomas Mccord eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In "The Stolen Bacillus," the threat of terrorism is an important theme. We see this through the character of the Anarchist who uses deception to gain entrance into the Bacteriologist's laboratory. The purpose of his visit is to obtain the cholera bacillus which he will then use to wreak havoc on the streets of London. While Wells does not reveal the specific political motivations of the Anarchist, it is clear that he seeks personal notoriety and long-lasting fame:

"The world should hear of him at last."

In the contemporary world, terrorism remains one of the most pressing issues for political leaders and their governments, particularly since the September 11 attacks in the U.S. in 2001. The Bacteriologist's attempt at capturing the Anarchist is, therefore, very relevant to modern times because it remains a real and constant threat. 

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