Cradle, like 2061: Odyssey Three (1987), and many other Clarke novels, contains many brief chapters. However, the time frame for the human characters is little more than a long weekend: sections are titled Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and short chapters within the sections detail the thoughts and actions of the humans. The human story is framed by short chapters telling of the life-planting ship and of the council decisions which set and revised the aliens' policies for directing the nurture of life forms in one section of the universe.
With the humans' plot occupying only a few days to resolve and to connect clearly with the alien ship plot, Cradle takes more opportunity for character development and exposition (if not extensive resolution) of the emotional conflicts of the major characters. Carol Dawson occasionally thinks about what she feels and why. Nick Williams reflects on his past affair and on its emotional aftermath.
Ultimately, the major characters — Dawson, Williams/Jefferson, and Winters — experience change because of their conflicts. They come to some new understanding of themselves in relation to the rest of the world, but the resolution of Cradle, like that of 2061, speaks more to a hope for human progress in the future than to victories for individual protagonists.
Sexual appetites and activity at times appear in explicit detail in Cradle, a factor that collaborator Gentry Lee admits to Clarke's biographer Neil McAleer were "overdone" in comparison to Clarke's usual discretion in addressing human sexuality. The male female conflicts of the novel are those raised for discussion in the news media and pop psychology books in the 1980s. Those very tensions, however, are not merely superficial commentary. If Carol Dawson and Nick Williams were not able to cooperate and over- come their hostilities to some degree, they would not have been able to solve the central problem of the novel — discovering the aliens' need and meeting it well enough to protect the future of humanity.
Clarke's familiarity with diving and the undersea environment shows in the realistic details of the setting, the characters' attention to safety precautions when diving, and so forth. Clarke's young adult nonfiction Indian Ocean Treasure (1974) and novels such as Dolphin Island (1963) similarly reflect his understanding of the oceans and undersea activities.