After reading part one of The Bug, we have been introduced to two main characters with two different sets of narration, Roberta whose storyline comes to us through first person narration, and Ethan whose storyline comes to us through third person limited narration. Although there are two different narrations, these are not two individual storylines. Both characters interact with each other throughout the novel and so far throughout the novel they have had very tumultuous interactions and though Roberta works for Ethan, they seem to be pitted against each other. Part of the reason for this seems to be because of their differences, however I have also noticed some similarities between the two characters, so for this free-write I decided to compare and contrast Roberta and Ethan and see how their similarities and differences inform their relationship with each other as well as the plot of the novel, or at least those parts that we have been exposed to so far.
At first glance, it is very easy to see how different Roberta and Ethan are. First of they are different sexes, this is relevant due to the relationship between men and women that exists in this time period, especially amongst those working in the technological field, as we learned more about in the “Making Programming Masculine” article. Further dividing the two characters are the positions that they hold within the company. Roberta has the presumably unfulfilling job as a tester, spending her days running the various programs (designed by Ethan) and finding problems and reporting to him. We can easily see in the novel that this job is seen as lowly, and something that does not require many skills or much brain power. Conversely, Ethan is a programmer, meaning that he is responsible for actually creating the code and designing and programming it. This is seen as a much higher status position within the company because he is creating rather than working with something exclusively created by something else. Roberta and Ethan also have incredibly different opinions on the company that they are part of and the work they are doing. For starters, Roberta sees this job as simply a way to pay the bills. She considers her self a “failed academic” after getting her PhD. in linguistics and slowly losing the ability to find work as a professor of the linguistics of poetry. Her passion in life lies in linguistics, yet she is being forced to stray from her field in order to make the money she wants to, she did not seek out this job for any reason other than money. Conversely, Ethan is clearly very passionate about his work, as we see how he spends his time once Joanna goes to India. He works exclusively on programming and throws himself into his work constantly reading manuals and programming until he falls asleep in his clothes late at night.
All of these difference between Roberta and Ethan can clearly be causes for the tension between them that we saw in part one of The Bug, however I have begun to notice several similarities between Ethan and Roberta, and although they have not been directly brought up in their interactions in the novel, I am interested in seeing if they come closer to the forefront of the plot as the novel progresses. One similarity that I quickly noticed between the pair was their respective failing relationships. At the beginning of the novel we learn about Roberta’s relationship with James, who has a history of cheating, and is presumably cheating on her with a great unrequited love of his. Further on, we meet Joanna, Ethan’s girlfriend of several years, however their relationship seems rocky due to Ethan’s unrelenting devotion to his work, which inspires his self-centered attitude; he is focused solely on his work and furthering himself within the company. Both characters seem not to be doing anything about the fact that they are in these crumbling relationships and seem unsure of how to deal with their problems or their significant others. Another similarity that I noticed was the idea and feeling of being an outsider. Neither Roberta nor Ethan are exactly qualified for the jobs they are doing. As I have mentioned, Roberta has a background in linguistics and has very limited information on computers. However, Ethan is similarly unqualified for his job based on his past experiences and often feels like an outsider among the other programmers and is constantly trying to prove his reliability.