The Hot Zone

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Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave Symbol Analysis

Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave Symbol Icon
To Ebola experts, Preston, and the reader, Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave represent the center of the mystery that is Ebola. Somewhere within that cave lurks the host of the virus—the animal that doesn’t become ill with the disease, but is able to infect other species with it. Despite travelling to Mount Elgon himself, at great personal risk and effort, Preston is never able to unlock the secret of Kitum Cave. A location filled with both beauty and danger, the cave marks the contradictory essence of nature. No matter how extensively humans explore Kitum Cave, they can never find the source of Ebola—similarly, no matter how long humans research the inner workings of nature, they will never unlock all of its secrets.

Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave Quotes in The Hot Zone

The The Hot Zone quotes below all refer to the symbol of Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of The Hot Zone published in 1999.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

[S]omething was making copies of itself inside Monet. A life form had acquired Charles Monet as a host, and it was replicating.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker), Charles Monet
Related Symbols: Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

After hiking in Kitum Cave, Charles Monet has unknowingly contracted the Marburg virus. The ominous tone that Preston strikes in this quote is appropriate, given the potentially disastrous circumstances that he is describing (and it also sets the tone for the book as a work of "non-fiction horror"). Although Marburg rarely infects humans, when it does, the results are nothing short of disastrous. 

This passage brings up a pattern that recurs repeatedly in the book: that of humans as vectors for disease. Over and over again we will see people living their day-to-day lives—boarding planes, shopping at markets, going to work—unaware that they are in fact exposing others to deadly viruses. To these "life form[s]," we are nothing but excellent hosts, perfectly suited to helping them spread and replicate. As of this moment, Monet is a virus's host. Although he may not show symptoms yet, Marburg has begun incubating, and the things living inside of him will soon render him fatally ill. 

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Part 1, Chapter 8 Quotes

Some of the predators that feed on humans have lived on the earth for a long time, far longer than the human race, and their origins go back, it seems, almost to the formation of the planet. When a human being is fed upon and consumed by one of them, especially in Africa, the event is telescoped against horizons of space and time, and takes on a feeling of immense antiquity.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker), Peter Cardinal
Related Symbols: Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

During the chapter in which he describes the death of a young boy of Marburg virus after a day of exploring Kitum Cave, Preston emphasizes the immense age of the Ebola virus. Unlike humans, who evolved fairly recently (and even more recently became the Earth’s dominant life form), viruses have existed on Earth for billions and billions of years. Described as “predators,” they have evolved to maximize their ability to spread, their age contrasting with the very short amount of time that we humans have been studying them.

As Preston describes the death of the boy—Peter Cardinal—he highlights the feeling of “antiquity” surrounding the event. Peter is dead after exploring an ancient cave and contracting an even more ancient virus. Although only a child, his death is the product of billions of years of evolution, something humans too often forget.

Gene felt a prickling sensation on his scalp. The paths of Charles Monet and Peter Cardinal had crossed at only one place on earth, and that was inside Kitum Cave. What had they done in the cave? What had they found in there? What had they touched? What had they breathed? What lived in Kitum Cave?

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker), Eugene (Gene) Johnson (speaker), Charles Monet, Peter Cardinal
Related Symbols: Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Preston describes the reaction of researcher Gene Johnson as he realizes that Charles Monet and Peter Cardinal, both of whom died of Marburg virus, each visited Kitum Cave days before their deaths. The “prickling sensation” is because Johnson knows this cannot be a coincidence. Somewhere within Kitum Cave is the source of the Marburg virus. Although a chilling thought, Johnson is also excited and curious—if he were able to find this source, it would be a huge breakthrough for Ebola research as a whole.

Preston next asks a series of questions, helping his readers to understand all the possibilities that scientists must consider as they study a virus. Marburg might be spread through touch, it might be spread through the air, or it might incubate within an animal found in the cave. Of course, Preston also adds a touch of foreboding to the questions, helping readers to understand how simultaneously terrifying and illuminating such a discovery would be.

Part 4, Chapter 2 Quotes

Say “Ahh,” Kitum Cave. Do you have a virus? No instruments, no senses can tell you if you are in the presence of the predator. I turned off my lights and stood in total darkness, feeling a bath of sweat trickle down my chest, hearing the thump of my heart and the swish of blood in my head.

Related Characters: Richard Preston (speaker)
Related Symbols: Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave, Spacesuits and Gloves, Blood and Bleeding
Page Number: 307
Explanation and Analysis:

Towards the end of the novel, the narrative turns personal, as author and narrator Richard Preston explores Kitum Cave himself, in a spacesuit, in order to learn more about the Marburg virus that lurks within it. He emphasizes to his readers that though he's protected by a spacesuit, he has no way of knowing if he is being exposed to viral particles at the moment or not. To emphasize his blindness, Preston turns off his flashlight and stands in total darkness, unable to see his surroundings just as he is unable to detect the possible presence of Marburg.

As he stands there, Preston observes his sweat, pulse, and blood pumping—all signs of an alive but intensely vulnerable human body that could easily be attacked by Marburg or some other "predatory" agent. Preston is implicitly comparing his own small, human fragility to the massive, ancient cave, and to the hidden menace of Marburg that lurks somewhere inside of it. 

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Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave Symbol Timeline in The Hot Zone

The timeline below shows where the symbol Mount Elgon and Kitum Cave appears in The Hot Zone. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1: Something in the Forest
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
...Charles Monet, a Frenchman, lives by himself in Western Kenya near a huge volcano called Mount Elgon . A fifty-six-year-old amateur naturalist and the employee of a nearby sugar factory, Monet is... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Describing Monet’s walk to work, Preston moves on to describe Mount Elgon , which looms above the surrounding landscape. He recounts how the mountain’s color changes as... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
Monet and his friend drive to a cliff called Endebess Bluff on the side of Mount Elgon . Preston observes that the volcanic dust there is as red as blood. He adds... (full context)
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After entering the small segment of Mount Elgon that is a national park, Monet and his friend meet a monkey, which sits on... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
The next morning, Monet and his friend set off for Kitum Cave , driving as far as they can and then following elephant trails (while staying away... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
...see hundreds of bats flying all around them. As they walk farther, they see that Kitum Cave houses a petrified rain forest, which was buried by ash during Mount Elgon’s formation. Around... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
...already damaged by elephants’ tusks. If they continue to damage the pillar, the roof of Kitum Cave will collapse. Finally, at the back of the cave, a huge number of bats hang... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3: Diagnosis
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
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...further recalls that he observed a Marburg-like virus that infected both humans and monkeys near Kitum Cave between 1962 and 1965. (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
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Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
...Marburg. Some of this Marburg virus (which Preston traces from Musoke to Monet to possibly Kitum Cave ) is currently in a collection of samples kept by the US Army. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8: Cardinal
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
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...and interview Peter’s parents. A week later, he has news: the family had traveled to Kitum Cave . New questions spring up in Johnson’s mind: if Charles Monet and Peter Cardinal both... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9: Going Deep
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...The scientist recounts his discovery that Peter Cardinal and Charles Monet had both been at Kitum Cave . Afterwards, Johnson flew out to Kenya and talked with David Silverstein. The two retraced... (full context)
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...cover their heads, they comically made do with flowered pillowcases. After a short visit to Kitum Cave , Johnson got the Army to fund a major research expedition, and in 1988 he... (full context)
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
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The Kitum Cave expedition moves into an old English hunting lodge from the 1920s, and gradually moves the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 9: Garbage Bags
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
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Sitting next to C. J. Peters, Gene Johnson thinks about Kitum Cave . He is terrified that someone is going to die because of the disease in... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11: Shoot-Out
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...and Joe McCormick, who had in the past criticized Gene Johnson for spending money studying Kitum Cave without publishing his findings. McCormick also feels that his knowledge of Ebola is superior because... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12: The Mission
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
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Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
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...kill monkeys. He does, however, have a large amount of equipment from his time in Kitum Cave that will at last prove useful. Gene feels both excited and afraid, ready to confront... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3: Tangos
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
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Innovation and Curiosity vs. Hubris  Theme Icon
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...Army had airlifted him out and put him in the Slammer for thirty days. In Kitum Cave , he had once cut himself through his spacesuit three times with bloody tools. His... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 1: Highway
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
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It is August 1993. Preston describes the road to Mount Elgon , which runs from the Kenyan highlands to the Rift valley. He adds that the... (full context)
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...in a Land Rover along with an intrepid guide named Robin MacDonald, who once visited Mount Elgon as a child. The two pass cornfields, people, and herds of cattle, and Robin reminisces... (full context)
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There have apparently been “reports of tribal violence around Mount Elgon ” because the Masai have been raiding an ethnic group called the Bukusu. Robin, however,... (full context)
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...90% of prostitutes who work along the main road have HIV/AIDS. In the area of Mount Elgon , 30% of men and women are infected with HIV. Most will die of AIDS,... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2: Camp
The Power of Nature Theme Icon
Human Error and Fragility Theme Icon
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As sunset approaches, the party stops in the town of Kitale at the base of Mount Elgon to buy beer and charcoal. As they walk through the town they are swarmed by... (full context)
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As the group explores the roads around Mount Elgon , they see signs of the conflict between the Masai and the Bukusu. They make... (full context)
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The men approach the mouth of Kitum Cave , and the sound of a waterfall grows stronger, as does the smell of bats.... (full context)
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...of the virus, and references the work that Gene Johnson and his team did at Kitum Cave . Preston puts his respirator on his head and tells the group to expect him... (full context)
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Preston enters the huge mouth of Kitum Cave and walks across a floor covered in bat dung. He observes that in 1982, the... (full context)
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Preston reaches the top of a mound in Kitum Cave and puts his hand on the ceiling, which is made up of solidified ash and... (full context)
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When Preston emerges from Kitum Cave , the afternoon rains have come. Fred Grant welcomes him back, and Preston fills a... (full context)
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Preston remembers reassuring himself after leaving Kitum Cave , but also knows that there is an incubation period of eighteen days. He recalls... (full context)