In "The Shadow and the Flash," Jack London tells the story of two rival scientists, Paul Tichlorne and Lloyd Inwood, who both aim to achieve invisibility but follow different paths. Their lifelong rivalry is the central theme of the story, and the narrator, a friend of both men, often finds himself in the role of peacemaker.
Paul Tichlorne, a chemist, chooses to study the natural sciences, and Lloyd Inwood follows suit. Their intense competition becomes widely known at their university. One day, they engage in a heated discussion about invisibility. Lloyd argues that an object can become invisible if it is perfectly black, as it would absorb all light and not reflect any back to the eye. Paul, however, believes that the key to invisibility is transparency, which would allow all light to pass through an object, rendering it unseen and casting no shadow.
Both scientists dedicate themselves to their respective pursuits. Lloyd experiments with pigments to create an absolute black, while Paul explores chemicals to induce transparency in living organisms. Over time, both men achieve their goals. Lloyd paints his laboratory with absolute black, making it invisible, while Paul manages to turn himself transparent, appearing only as a rainbow flash when light refracts through his body.
One day, the two rivals encounter each other on a tennis court, where a fierce battle ensues between Lloyd's dark, shadowy form and Paul's rainbow flash. The narrator, witnessing this confrontation, fears that their long-standing rivalry will lead to a catastrophic end.
Jack London's story, "The Shadow and the Flash," delves into themes of competition, scientific discovery, and the consequences of obsession. As both men succeed in their quests for invisibility, their rivalry culminates in a dramatic and tense climax, reflecting the potential dangers of unchecked ambition and rivalry.