In Planet of the Apes, the author has three men go out on the same voyage, and all encounter the conflict much the same way. There is a specific reason why the author chose to make it a three-person journey rather than just having a single person go out and try to make contact with the far-off people. There is a distinct literary purpose, of course. According to form, journeys are rarely taken alone. Most road trip novels have included at least two characters, with even Steinbeck’s “alone” voyage leading to him describing his dog in distinctly human terms. In order to retain the flow of the story, and to allow the characters to develop through dialogue, the author had to make sure there was more than one of them.
There are other reasons, too, that have to do with the framing of the story. The story is initially framed by the presence of a manuscript that is found by a couple. That manuscript had to be written by someone, and in order for that someone to write he, he had to survive the encounter. With this in mind, one of the characters is there to play a role in allowing the framing of the story to take place. This is critical because without him, there would have been a hole in the story as it might have failed to answer the important missive, “How did human beings discover this tale?”
Two more characters are involved for reasons particular to them and to the story. Antelle is the famed researcher, and few researchers work alone. They are almost always in tandem, so he decided to bring along his protégé, Arthur. This was critical not only to build out the story of the two of them, but also because it allowed for more diverse action in regard to the apes. Arthur is killed in the early part of the action, a plot device that allows the author to demonstrate the savage brutality that the apes inflicted on the humans there. If there had been only one character, the author could not have had that character killed. After all, if that character was killed, who would carry on and tell the rest of the story? With this in mind, the author decided that the best track was to add more characters according to the different elements of the plot he wanted to provide. Antelle had a different journey that allowed him to show something different about the nature of the apes that was not revealed in the action surrounding Arthur.
Ultimately the three individuals all have different outcomes even though they all faced roughly the same conflict. Arthur is killed in the first attack before the group has a chance to do much. He is one of many humans who are killed, a sign early in the story about how serious the apes were in dealing with outsiders who came there to gawk about them. Ulysse is taken as a prisoner, and while he is being imprisoned, he has the opportunity to study the behavior of the apes. This allows the author to provide some judgments on the way the apes behaved toward humans, and how the behavior of the apes could compare to the behavior of human beings. Eventually Ulysse becomes a part of these experiments, as he is mated to Nova. Antelle’s story is unique. He is in the zoo, and he begins to revert to bestiality, a strange diversion that takes him out of the zoo and forces him to breed with a younger being. Ultimately the three end up in very different ways, a distinctive and intentional move designed to provide wide insight into the author’s points.
- Boulle, P. (2011). Planet of the Apes. Random House.