1. Immediately with this prompt, my mind went to the modern psychological trait theory of personality, which encompasses “The Big Five.” The traits included in this model are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. I decided to list four out of five of these traits to describe some of Swan and Wahram’s more prominent characteristics.
- Openness: “For her art was something to make, first and foremost, and after that something to talk about” (22). I would posit that Swan would score very high on the openness trait. This would mean she is creative and inventive, and that she appreciates new ideas and people.
- Conscientiousness: “You’ve had five or six or seven brain tweaks over the years, a qube in your head—in fact, whatever was fashionable at the time” (89). Swan would most likely score very low on the conscientiousness trait. This would speak to her careless, spur-of-the-moment decisions, like implanting her qube.
- Extraversion: “’I think,’ he said promptly. ‘And that’s enough for you?’” (23). I think Swan would score very high on the extraversion trait. This would entail an energetic and active character with a high social meter, one, for example, that found the idea of ‘just thinking’ almost absurd.
- Agreeableness: “Suddenly Swan realized it was a relief to have something to be angry at” (28). I am probably most confident in saying Swan would score low on the agreeableness trait. A low score is defined by being challenging, assertive, irritable, and rude.
- Openness: “He said evasively, his fixed gaze shifting away. He didn’t want to discuss it, she saw” (16). I think Wahram would score low on the openness trait. A low score means one is consistent and cautious in regards to new ideas and people.
- Extraversion: “’I think,’ he said promptly. ‘And that’s enough for you?’” (23). I used the same quote for both Swan and Wahram in the extraversion trait because I think it best exemplifies their conflicting scores. Wahram would probably score very low. The characteristics that are associated with a low score are: solitary, reserved, and aloof.
- Agreeableness: “Wahram, often pierced by the thought of the loss himself, could only wordlessly sympathize” (43). Wahram would probably score high on the agreeableness trait. This is defined by a compassionate, sympathetic, and good-natured approach to others, as this passage exhibits when he is listening to Swan talk about Alex.
- Neuroticism: “It was going to be a little embarrassing to be found out here alone, which in some parks was not legal, and in general was not considered prudent. Then again, here she was too” (41). Again, I feel the most strongly about giving Wahram a high score on the neuroticism trait. He appears to be sensitive and insecure, as well as nervous about things as trivial as not appearing prudent.
2. Very early on in the novel, after only knowing him for a short while, Swan describes Wahram: “He’s slow, he’s rude, he’s autistic. He’s boring” (28). It doesn’t get much more judgmental than that. And I think even just in this quote, Kim Stanley Robinson is criticizing both of their characters. Both Wahram for his introversion and over-cautiousness and Swan for her hypercritical irritableness. Both of these characters seem to be on extreme ends of the personality spectrum, which puts them in an easy place to criticize. But I think ultimately what character traits Robinson values will be made clearer when we reach the conclusion of both Swan’s and Wahram’s character’s arcs. Will Wahram learn to ‘loosen up’ and be more open? And will Swan learn to be more considerate and caring?