The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 578

The brilliant but contentious Dr. Jeremy Stone, the thirty-six-year-old leader of the research project to find the source of the mysterious disease and its cure, has recently won the Nobel Prize for his work on bacteria. Stone was one of the scientists responsible for the Scoop project; he is ironically chosen to solve the problems that his brainchild originated. Stone is a tireless worker and is devoted to his team members and to the project.

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Dr. Peter Leavitt is a man with a secret. Even though the scientists have to pass rigorous physical examinations before beginning work, Leavitt successfully hides his epilepsy. Finally, exhaustion and the blinking lights of the computer console bring on a seizure. Leavitt is left with the guilty knowledge that his duplicity might have caused the research project to fail. This seizure, incidentally, prevents Leavitt from noticing the one way in which the bacteria are vulnerable. The incident is only one of several unfortunate coincidences on which the plot entirely depends. Had Leavitt not gone into seizure, he would have discovered the weak spot of the bacteria and the menace would have been ended.

Just as Leavitt is wrong in trying to hide his condition, Dr. Charles Burton is careless in his scientific method. As the narrator observes, if Burton had only thought to perform an autopsy on the brains of certain research animals being exposed to the bacteria, perhaps the answer to the puzzle would have come more rapidly.

The most clearly drawn and likable character is young Dr. Mark Hall, a surgeon chosen for the project not only for his credentials but also for the fact that he is the “odd man out”—the only one of the four who is unmarried. Crichton presents a fictional psychological study supporting the very dubious premise that single men are more likely to blow themselves up when ordered to do so. Thus, only Hall is given the ability to stop the explosion of an atomic device which will detonate automatically if the security of the laboratory is breached. Perhaps the fact that Hall is the most likable and most intelligent of the group is explained by noting that Crichton is a doctor himself. Whatever the cause of Hall’s talents, the success of the project depends on him. Indeed, it is Hall’s research and his insight into the problem that provide the answer to the puzzle. At the climax of the story, Hall makes his heroic climb through the core of the underground laboratory to save his colleagues and the building from atomic destruction.

Of all the “characters,” the reader’s attention keeps returning to the microscopic bit of life that is brought back on the Scoop. It is a character without a name and with a structure unlike that of any known Earth entity. This bacterium is made of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen, but lacks amino acids. It therefore contains no proteins, the building blocks of all earthly life. By all the scientists’ reckonings, it cannot be alive, yet it divides, respires, and changes in form—all marks of life.

The science in the novel and the pace of the adventure must maintain the reader’s interest because the characters show little individuality. For example, Stone’s personality has supposedly caused four of his marriages to fail, yet in the laboratory he is even-tempered, gentle, and considerate. Despite Crichton’s effort to tailor carefully each character’s background, they behave much alike.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 627

Jeremy Stone

Jeremy Stone, a professor of bacteriology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a Nobel Prize winner, a lawyer, and a federal government consultant whose paper on the possibilities of a bacterial or viral invasion led to his Project...

(The entire section contains 1887 words.)

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