Hip the hero! His name is short for Hippocrates, as in the Hippocrates, famous Greek physician. That makes sense because Hip Barrows is the one who brings the ethical cure to Gerry's gestalt. Mm-mmm, we love us some of that ethical cure.
Tracing Hip's evolution is a good approach to understanding his character, as his brilliance, persistence, and resilience allow him to keep fighting for survival until he can develop enough empathy and a conscience capable of saving the day. He just has to get over his need to be popular first.
The short description of Hip's childhood in Part 1, starts from the very beginning: the place from which he evolves. Brilliance is Hip's chief asset, but his need to be liked is his chief weakness. He just wants to be popu-u-lar.
Hip is a brainy wonder who "rose through childhood like a rocket" (1.13.2), building gadgets and winning awards right and left, a hero like the typical ones from the Golden Age of Science Fiction. But no one gets off easy in this book, right?
He's got one of the book's several bad dads. Hip's hateful, strict, workaholic father teaches him to unconsciously feel that his gifts are undeserved. The conditioning from the elder Barrows "constantly chanted to him that he was a kind of thief, not entitled to that which he had not earned; for such was the philosophy of his father the doctor, who had worked hard for everything. So Hip's talents brought him friends and honors, and friendships and honors brought him uneasiness and a sick humility of which he was quite unaware" (1.13.3). In other words, Hip has internalized the feeling of not being good enough, of being ashamed of his natural gift of brilliance. Dr. Barrows goes so far as to destroy young Hip's work. Talk about an overreaction.
All this discouragement from his father leads Hip to strike out on his own to become an engineer—and become popular rather than hated:
He needed to be very popular and this, like all his other needs, he accomplished with ease. (1.13.5).
Hip's childhood thus sharply contrasts with Gerry's. Young Barrows has access to money, has a parent (albeit a hateful one), and has popularity. He doesn't have the loneliness that drives the other main characters into joining Lone's gestalt. Gerry, on the other hand, is a poor, abused orphan. And of course, the two meet at the end.
Once Hip joins the Air Force, he's basically like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Only more psychic.
He becomes an adult with too much time on his hands and too little available to satisfy his curiosity. He suffers loneliness now, like the rest of the main characters. He's "alone" (1.13.6) and "avoided" (1.13.6) and "surrounded by puzzling rejection" (3.9.64). His loneliness and brilliance drive him to find a mathematical anomaly while conducting research. It reveals a strange field of anti-magnetism.
Hip, arrogant and full of himself, recruits the dumbest-looking soldier to join him in tracking down the source of the strange phenomenon. Little does he know that this soldier is Gerry Thompson, the head of the gestalt that invented the phenomenon's source, in disguise. Hip finds the anti-gravity generator creating the contra-magnetism and is thrilled with how popular he'll become. The device will be world-changing. But Gerry launches it into the sky, out of his reach forever. The experience is at once "an answer, a dream, and a disaster" (1.13.7).
Gerry takes more than just the gadget away from Hip; he takes away the possibility of Hip regaining the popularity he lost when he joined the Air Force. Hip fights with superiors and other soldiers to have his discovery acknowledged, but they decide he's simply crazy. Major Thompson—who is really just Gerry disguised as a psychiatrist—ruins his memory and sabotages his career. Captain Bromfield, an actual military psychiatrist, can't help.
Hip is discharged from the Air Force, left with nothing but his brilliance. So he's got brains left. If he were a zombie he could eat them, but unfortunately this isn't that kind of story.
Another of Hip's brilliant qualities emerges now that he's on his own: persistence. He struggles for seven long years to find the inventor of the anti-gravity device, not stopped by others' insistence that he's merely imagining this anti-gravity generator. When Hip has almost discovered the gestalt, finally, Gerry places yet another block on his memory, gives him a subconscious command to get sick and die, and lands him in a jail cell. Hip doesn't know who he is or how he got there. He has nothing now.
Janie Thompson rescues him from the cell, and yet another quality of the hero emerges: resilience, the ability to bounce back after disaster. With her help, he works hard to regain his memories and fight Gerry's command that he get sick and die. "It's not enough," he tells Janie of his progress at one point (3.6.78). They work for weeks to help him think backward in his mind to discover what had happened to him. He'll do whatever it takes to succeed in his quest to find the anti-gravity generator.
Janie's confidence in him leads him to question his motivations for going after the gadget in the first place. "I was going to discover something and bring it to humanity, not for humanity's sake," he tells Janie about his past self (3.14.95). He was going to do it for popularity. But now he doesn't want that. He wants "Something different" but he's not sure what (3.14.97). Hm…is it just us, or does this sounds kind of familiar?
Hip's now got brilliance, persistence, resilience—and no more need for popularity. He's also got Janie placing her faith in him, that he'll be able to teach Gerry to be ashamed.
Janie takes him to the Kew house to confront Gerry, and that's when Hip grows enough to discover the best part of himself.
As he's about to face down Gerry, Hip realizes Homo sapiens (AKA all humanity) is at risk of being destroyed by the gestalt if he can't persuade Gerry to change. No pressure or anything.
Hip uses his brilliance to ponder philosophy on his own. It's all about survival, he decides. The idea is that Hip can reason this out while about to face down the leader of the advanced life form who's destroyed his life more than once.
Hip defines morality as a society's code for an individual's survival, and decides that the gestalt can't have a morality, for it is alone. He sees that the gestalt needs an ethics, an individual's code for the survival of a society. Hip hopes he can come up with a way to persuade Gerry to choose to serve humanity, to pick humanity as the society to which to belong.
In other words, he wants Gerry to choose a path different from his. Hip initially sought the anti-gravity generator not to serve humanity, but to become popular. Now Hip realizes that serving humanity is a more fitting goal. Add 'having a conscience' to the tally of Hip's admirable traits.
He wonders what gives him the right to make conclusions about morality and ethics. That's when he thinks of Dr. Barrows, his father. Although his father was hateful, he realizes, Dr. Barrows wanted him to serve humanity. Hip is able to have some empathy for his old man and forgive him:
"I am the son of a doctor, a man who chose to serve mankind, and who was positive that this was right. And he tried to make me serve in the same way, because it was the only rightness he was sure of. And for this I have hated him all my life . . . I see now, Dad, I see!" (3.16.55)
So now we can add 'empathy' to the list of Hip's characteristics. Somebody put this dude on The Bachelor already…what a catch!
Hip turns the tables on Gerry and holds him prisoner in the glass-paneled room in the Kew mansion. But instead of killing the monster, which he points out would be moral, he does something ethical: he instead lets Gerry probe his mind, where he's prepared a philosophical message.
The message begins by forging empathy between the two, pointing out their similarities. They both were hated in their childhood, eventually found a place to belong, lost themselves for years, discovered advanced powers, and found themselves unwanted. And now they both want to be needed. The takeaway? Their lives basically turned them into monsters.
But the message continues: Hip stopped being a monster when he found an ethical code of humanism:
What it is really is a reverence for your sources and your posterity [...] Help humanity. (3.17.12-13).
The message concludes by telling Gerry he must make his own decision.
Gerry agrees to Hip's philosophy of humanism. Phew. Upon Janie's invitation, Hip now becomes a member of the gestalt: its conscience. The gestalt is welcomed into the larger Homo Gestalt society, and the life form's evolution—and Hip's—is complete. He's got brilliance, persistence, resilience, empathy, a conscience, and a sense of belonging without an overwhelming need to be popular.
What's the superpower that makes Hip unique? It's his conscience, his sense of values. He bestows it upon Gerry's gestalt. That's when Janie invites him to be a member of it. She calls him:
The prissy one who can't forget the rules. The one with the insight called ethics who can change it to the habit called morals. (3.20.19)