Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
The Potential Dangers of Technology
Hammond, in an attempt to increase efficiency and save money, wants Jurassic Park to be able to operate with a minimal number of staff. Therefore, he has the park designed to be operated almost entirely by a huge computer system that automates virtually all of the park's systems and functions. The computer system has significant bugs, however, and these defects prove disastrous over the course of one twenty-four-hour period.
Jurassic Park was written in 1990, amid the fever of the information age when seemingly the whole world was suddenly interested in computerizing. Companies and individuals wanted to automate their lives and tasks, albeit sometimes on a much smaller scale than that of Hammond's park. This occurred just ten years before the predicted turn-of-the-millennium "Y2K" computer glitch that had computer technicians and information technology professionals across the globe bracing for disaster.
One of the primary questions Crichton explores in Jurassic Park is what would happen if all of these computers and systems suddenly stopped working. Crichton does not include Malcolm's chaos-theory calculations of catastrophe merely to show off fancy-sounding scientific lingo. Malcolm's theories, rather, serve as a warning for a society increasingly dependent on technology. Though Hammond's computer system is designed to anticipate any disaster that may befall his park, yet Malcolm asserts that, because of the laws of chaos theory that govern all natural or manmade systems, the workings of a complex system like Jurassic Park simply cannot be predicted for any length of time. Something unexpected is bound to happen, and no computer program can be designed to prevent it. Malcolm's lesson can be applied to any person or corporation that tries to substitute computer calculations for flexible human thought. Circumstances change, and even the most complicated computer program will not always be able to keep up.
In a broader sense, Crichton is making a statement about man's thirst for scientific discovery and power. Much of the research and DNA gene-splicing in Jurassic Park is performed by supercomputers, not humans. A strand of DNA is so long and complex that, even with the aid of a computer, it is difficult to decipher and comprehend in totality. Indeed, Dr. Wu, the park's head scientist, is only half-aware of what exactly his computer programs are doing when they replicate dinosaur DNA. Crichton expresses worry that science is increasingly headed into theoretical realms of concepts and figures that are so large that they are literally incomprehensible to the human mind. Just because we have a supercomputer or any other powerful scientific or technological tool that can do something for us does not mean that we should use that tool, especially if our knowledge of its precise function is so limited.
Similarities Between Dinosaurs and Birds
Much of the foreshadowing early in the novel revolves around the concept that dinosaurs are related to birds. At first, Crichton merely hints at the concept: the injured InGen worker uses the word "raptor", which Manuel associated with the mythical Costa Rican hupia. Bobbie looks up the word in two dictionaries and finds the definitions "abductor" and "bird of prey." Furthermore, Tina states that the lizard tracks she saw before she was attacked looked like bird tracks, and claims that the lizard chirped and bobbed its head like a chicken. This bird imagery continues after the discussions of dinosaurs begin. Morris says that Grant's dinosaur fossils look like chicken bones, and Grant describes the procompsognathus as being roughly the size of a chicken and the velociraptor as "finely tuned as a bird."
The reason for these comparisons becomes more obvious once Grant and company begin interacting with the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar. Even from their first observations of the animals, Grant and Sattler are immediately surprised at how deftly the dinosaurs move. The velociraptors are given particularly birdlike descriptive features, a connection that emphasizes that dinosaurs were not necessarily the lumbering beasts they are often depicted as today. Rather, Crichton explores paleontologists' theories that dinosaurs may have been exceptionally agile and intelligent creatures.
Around the time Crichton wrote Jurassic Park, the latest scientific research was leaning toward a possibly closer relationship between birds and dinosaurs than paleontologists had previously thought. At the time the idea was still somewhat controversial. Since the book's publication, however, virtually irrefutable fossil evidence has been found linking the heritage of birds to dinosaurs. Nevertheless, many paleontologists have found the depiction of some of the dinosaurs in the movie version of Jurassic Park—the screenplay of which was partially written by Crichton himself—to be exaggerated and unrealistic, the velociraptors in particular being much too large and speedy. Nonetheless, this more recent research seems to have borne out the idea that dinosaurs, as ancestors of both modern-day lizards and birds, were more agile than previously thought.
As Jurassic Park is located on an island about a hundred miles off Costa Rica, InGen is, from the start, associated with the Costa Rican "hupia" spirits that are purported to dwell on offshore islands and kidnap children. The injured InGen worker claims that a hupia was responsible for his plight. These hupia prove to be the most notable symbol in the novel: after Tina is attacked, Dr. Guitierrez's research indicates that several babies around Costa Rica have recently been attacked by lizards. Bearing these events in mind, along with the fact that the injured InGen worker is described as "a boy," we infer at this point that the hupia have something to do with InGen and lizards.
Later, it is more than mere coincidence that the first big dinosaur attack happens to Tim and Lex. The dying guard's talk about hupia links the concept of the hupia to both the word "raptor" and the local lizard attacks. Once we become aware that InGen has been breeding dinosaurs—not mere lizards—the connection between hupia and the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park is obvious. Indeed, the dinosaurs InGen has created seem to instinctively attack children. Crichton uses this idea to vilify the dinosaurs, making them even more fearsome forces of evil than they might be if they were not especially targeting defenseless children.
In particular, the connection between the hupia and the velociraptors. When the tour group is in the raptor nursery at Jurassic Park, the baby raptor is clearly drawn to Tim. Later in the novel, when the raptors get loose, several of them go after Tim and Lex. As evidence grows that raptors have escaped to the mainland, the prospect of a whole population of intelligent, baby-hungry beasts hiding in the jungles of Costa Rica is made especially disturbing.
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