Many authors develop characters from whom their ideas eventually proceed. Powers, in most of his work, seems rather to begin with complex ideas and to use his characters as mouthpieces for those ideas. This is not to suggest that his characterization is weak. Rather, it remains secondary to the main, ideological thrust of his novels, including The Gold Bug Variations.
Viewing the pairs of characters in the novel metaphorically, one must conclude that they are shadow images of DNA’s structure, the double helix. Everything in the novel points to such an interpretation.
It is productive to view the novel’s characters not only as two couples but also as a pair of men and a pair of women. Viewed in this way, one realizes that both of the men have been on the brink of accomplishment, Stuart in his quest to understand the structure of the DNA molecule and Franklin in his quest for a doctorate in art history.
Presumably, the quest on which each had embarked was within reach for both men. They opted, however, to terminate their quests, to withdraw short of their stipulated goals, not because they were incapable of accomplishing those goals but, most likely, because their quests have ceased to have cogent meaning for them. The lives of both men cross when they find themselves working at menial, dead-end jobs, but resigned to rather than unhappy at the status that they themselves had willed.
Stuart can be termed a...
(The entire section is 566 words.)