The Stolen Bacillus: Summary

H.G. Wells wrote “The Stolen Bacillus.” This curious tale, therefore, is placed among some of Wells’s most celebrated scientific romances. Indeed, “The Stolen Bacillus” is itself a tale about a scientist that begins in somber tones and has a quickly developed plot suggesting the possibility of a terrifying threat to humankind. However, the bizarre twist with which the tale ends makes it less interesting as a work of thriller fiction than as an almost perfect example of the use of bathos in literature.

The Stolen Bacillus: Summary

The Bacteriologist has a visitor to his laboratory, a pale stranger who arrives with a letter of introduction from a good friend of the scientist. The scientist shows his visitor the cholera bacillus under a microscope, and they talk about the disease. The visitor is particularly interested in a vial containing living bacteria, and the scientist describes the power of cholera, saying what a terrible epidemic could be caused if a tube such as the one he holds were to be opened into the water supply. The scientist’s wife calls him away for a moment; when the scientist returns, the visitor is ready to leave. However, as soon as the visitor has gone, the scientist realizes the vial of bacteria is missing and that the visitor must have stolen it. He runs out in a panic, sees the visitor’s cab leaving, and hails another cab to give chase. The scientist’s wife, horrified by his inappropriate dress and hurry, follows in a third cab, with her husband’s shoes and coat and hat. We shift to the point of view of the visitor in his cab. He has indeed stolen the vial. He is an Anarchist who plans to release the bacteria into London’s water supply. His motivation is fame: he feels the world has neglected him, and now he will reveal his power and importance. In the speeding cab, however, he accidentally breaks the glass vial. He decides to become a human vector. He swallows what is left in the vial and stops the cab, realizing that he no longer needs to flee. When the scientist catches up and confronts him, the Anarchist gleefully announces what he has done. The scientist allows him to walk away and tells his wife that the man has ingested the stolen bacteria. There is a twist: the vial, it turns out, did not contain cholera, but a strange new microbe the Bacteriologist had been studying, the only known effect of which is to make the skin of the animals exposed to it turn bright blue. The Bacteriologist reluctantly puts on his coat and returns home with his wife, complaining that he will now have to culture the bacillus all over again.

Also Read:  Memory Summary and Analysis by H.W Longfellow

The Stolen Bacillus: Character Sketch

The Anarchist is one of the main characters in Wells’ story “The Stolen Bacillus.” From Wells’ characterization, we see that the Anarchist is a deceitful person. He uses deception to gain access to the laboratory, for example, by forging a “letter of introduction.” the Anarchist is also very proud of himself and his achievements. This is evident after he steals the bacillus and is musing on his plan.

The Stolen Bacillus: Theme

While many people may consider it as a science-fiction short story, it is not. It is actually satire. A satirical story about the potential role of scientists in facilitating bio-terrorism: the bacteriologist, though he is a genius scientist, has been ignorant about the motivations of people like the anarchist. However, later it turns out that he was boastfully dishonest. The story also adds elements of humor as the bacteriologist seems to be mocking the anarchist for his foolish act in the end. The reason why many people consider it a science-fiction story- because of the other stories writer HG Wells had written.

The Stolen Bacillus: Solved Questions

1.How is humor employed by H.G. Wells to make ‘The Stolen Bacillus’ a piece of delightful reading?

The story begins with a slender, pale-faced man who has come with a letter of introduction to visit a bacteriologist who has developed a cholera bacteria. The unsuspecting bacteriologist shows him the stained and killed bacteria under a microscope. The stranger marvels that these little streaks and shreds of pink, which are even smaller than an atom, may multiply and devastate a whole city. Encouraged by the stranger’s interest, the bacteriologist waxes eloquently about the destructive potential of the bacteria. A tiny tune of the living bacteria, broken into the supply of drinking water, which can neither be smelled or tasted, can take the husband from wife, the child from its mother, the statesman from his duty. The bacteriologist becomes almost poetic as he personifies the bacteria and traces its destructive course. The bacteriologist says the cholera bacteria would follow the water mains, creeping along streets and lying dormant in ices. He would wait ready to be drunk in the horse’s troughs and by unwary children in the public fountains. He would soak into the soil to repair in springs and wells in a thousand unexpected places. And after a while, his wife calls the bacteriologist for a minute, and when he returns, the stranger is ready to leave, pleading for an engagement. The bacteriologist ponders on the ethnology or race of his visitor as he returns to the laboratory after his accompanying his visitor to the door. Suddenly a disturbing thought struck him when he could not find the tube of Cholera bacteria. Now begins the really comic aspect of the story as the chase begins. Minnie was alarm at her husband’s strange behavior and ran to the window to look out onto the street. She remained leaning out of the window for a minute, convinced that her husband has gone mad. The Slender, pale-faced man in the first cab, who had stolen the bacillus turned out to be a man who suffered from a persecution complex. He felt that society has always ignored and neglected him. As a result, he had a grudge against society and had admired all the infamously great Anarchists. Now he was half apprehensive and half exultant at how he was going to be Avenged on society by releasing the bacillus on the unsuspecting public and how he would go down in history as the most ingenious anarchist. He decided to drink the remaining drop in the tube so that he himself would be infected by the Cholera and die. He realizes that there was no need for the change anymore, so he stopped the cab and got down. He folded his arms across his chest and waited for the bacteriologist and informed him triumphantly that he had drunk that the bacillus and cholera were not let loose. The bacteriologist was amused at the turn of events because he realizes that this man who had expressed search interest in his work was actually an anarchist. The anarchist Now made his way towards Waterloo Bridge, touching as many people as he could so that they would also be infected. The bacteriologist explained the whole situation to his wife and wondered what effect it would have on the man as he had previously experimented with it only on animals. His clinical detachment to the impending death of a fellow human being has a darkly humorous side to it, as has the fact that forgetting about the fate of the unfortunate man, he and his wife argue about whether he needs to wear a coat on a hot day like this. Still, then we learn that the tube is not a Cholera bacillus at all.
 
 
 
 

Also Read:  Fragment Summary and Analysis by Edwin Arlington Robinson