Parables are like mirrors: we hold them up in order to see ourselves. But while mirrors show us how we look, a well-written parable shows us who we are. The Parable of the Cell uses the talented JJ McGill’s scientific knowledge to show us our humanity. It’s a story that only takes 90 seconds to read and is just three paragraphs in length. But its short length makes it more impressive. How does it do this?
The story can be essentially divided up into two parts. The first paragraph is about the cell—it traces the evolutionary characteristics that make up the scientific answer of how humans came to be. The second and third paragraphs are about explaining humans in our own language: striving, struggling, trying, failing.
Putting the story in this order leads to a kind of movement: first we are struck by the strangeness of our component parts. There is comfort in this depth of knowledge. Then, we are struck by the personification in the line, “Its first act of volition is to open the book and read.” This moment is important because it describes the cell in human characteristics. And this particular action, to read, reminds the reader of themselves—reading. But the cell is not human, it is “Detached from existential questions of fate”.
The story then turns to ‘man’ and the reader is asked to consider the micro/macro situation at play. Man is the culmination of the previous paragraph. We are reminded that “Buried within him are the gears of life—infinite machines bundled within trillions of cells.” Man comes up out of the cell and the sum is greater than the parts. While the cells are described as having, “…neither will nor ambition”, man is, “desperate for a sense of purpose”.
What makes this story interesting is the way that the form mirrors the content. Just as man is the sum of the productive process of cells, the description of man in this story seems to rise up out of McGill’s description of the cell. It’s a beautiful technique that leverages both scientific knowledge and human experience. At Chronicle, we’re always looking for stories that squeeze the maximum effect out of the smallest word count. By tethering the form and content of this story together, JJ McGill has amplified the effect of both. We applaud his hard work.
Check out The Parable of the Cell on Chronicle
About the Author:
JJ McGill is a Sci-fi and Fantasy author published in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination and Futura Magazine. You can find more of his works on his medium profile.