Academic journal article CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture

Portrayal of Physicists in Fictional Works

Academic journal article CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture

Portrayal of Physicists in Fictional Works

Article excerpt

What image comes to mind when thinking of a physicist? A mad scientist bent on global domination? An absent-minded professor? Eighty fictional physicists are examined in the article at hand, including researchers, professors, astrophysicists, space scientists, and geophysicists in twenty-eight novels, twenty-one films, and a television series. Characters' actions and stated facts about them determined if they possessed one or more personality traits: obsessive, having major mental problems, withdrawn, brave, timid, socially inept, too career-focused, out of touch, arrogant, and stubborn. Gender differences were also explored. The texts' subjects were not necessarily on science. Aliens, time travel, golf balls, exploring space, parallel worlds, and disasters are example topics. A character had to have enough of a presence in order to gather information on their personality. A brief appearance does not give a good sense of personality. Seven characters are portrayals of people who actually existed: Marie Curie, Pierre Curie, Albert Einstein, Lieserl Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Erwin Schrodinger (two portrayals). Lieserl Einstein, a pre-marriage child to Einstein and his first wife, may not have survived childhood. Her being a scientist is itself purely fictional. One character is an alien trying to pass himself off as a human physicist. His actions as both a physicist and a human may give insight into the view of how physicists act. Eighty characters were examined to see which, if any, of a selection of personality traits they possessed. The personality traits are subjectively assigned to the characters based upon their actions and statements about and by them. The personality traits are not meant to be an official psychological assessment and are based solely upon their fitting into the concept of that trait.

23 out of 80, or 28.8%, of the characters were obsessive. Some obsessive behavior revolves around characters' work. Marie and Pierre Curie become obsessed with their work, despite signs of illness. Gloria Lamerino is hired as a police consultant on murder cases and gets too involved. Some characters are obsessed with people. Dick Solomon is romantically obsessed with anthropology professor Mary Albright and is jealously obsessed with fellow physics professor Vincent Strudwick, who wrote a popular physics book. Revenge is another obsession. Lieserl Einstein is bitterly obsessed with vengeance on the father who abandoned her by outdoing him in physics. Her obsession results in losing her husband and son in the Holocaust due to her refusal to flee.

15 out of 80, or 18.8%, of the characters had major mental health problems. While some characters are stated as possessing major mental problems, others are labeled due to their behavior. One note is that sanity is usually judged relative to others in the same society (what is insane to us might not be insane in another society). Dick Solomon's behavior seems normal when compared to others from his world. Members of his family/crew and visitors, such as The Big Giant Head, exhibit similar behavior. He behaves outside the norm for humanity. Such actions as his obsession with Mary Albright, outrageous requests for office assistant Nina, his treatment of students, and misunderstandings of human society often leave most people bewildered or angry at his behavior. Alice Coombs's obsession with the black hole-like being Lack leads her to become mentally unbalanced as she becomes distraught over Lack not letting her pass in. Elsa Mitwisser is bedridden and prone to outburst of violence and only seems lucid part of the time. However, she seems to know more about what is going on with the family than anyone and eventually regains control due to a family crisis. Some characters see no problem with harming others to get what they want, including murder. Arnold Dexter, Don Chambers, Dr. Lozardo, Hans Reinhardt, Professor Weston, and Victor Von Doom all see others as less important than their goal. …

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