A Study of the Themes Present in the Works of H. G. Wells

Categories: Literature

Throughout history, humanity has struggled to lead better lives and improve their surroundings for future generations in an effort to create a perfect society. Many definitions arise on defining what a utopian society is. Within these ideas comes from one of the greatest authors who viewed the evil power science and technology can have in societies. Referred to as the father of science fiction, H.G. Wells strongly believed in the productive aspects of science and the potential of the human race.

In most of Wells’ novels, destruction does not come from science but from humanity’s own dark nature. At the same time, he was also aware that scientific knowledge placed in the wrong hands could result in evil caused by the darker aspects of humanity. As demonstrated in H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, and The War of the Worlds, the idea of an utopian world is non-existent. Set in rural Sussex, in the late 1890s, The Invisible Man narrates what might happen to a man who has a power of science that sets him above other men and the moral corruption that ensues.

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In The Time Machine, an unnamed Time Traveler visits the paradisiacal future, in the year 802,701 AD, discovering the division of humanity into two branches: the childlike Eloi, who live in the forests and gardens of the surface world, and the apelike Morlocks, who inhabit caves and tunnels beneath. The War of the Worlds takes place in the late 1890s in England, illustrating the human society shattered by a technological superior enemy, the Martians.

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All of Wells’ novels commonly demonstrate the numerous influences of evolution which have brought the human race era to be who they are today.

Herbert George Wells was born on September 21, 1866, in Bromley, Kent, which is a small town near London. Growing up in an impoverished lower middle class family, Wells’ childhood was marked by a constant financial uncertainty, as the family was dependent upon an occasional work that Wells’ father picked up as a cricketing coach and player. Despite their financial situation, Wells attended the Normal School of Science, where he became intrigued by science and became very literate. Eventually Wells earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from the University of London External Programme. It was when Wells studied under Thomas Henry Huxley, a famous advocate of the scientific theory of evolution, that he became intrigued in socialism. While studying under Huxley, he instilled in Wells a belief in social as well as a biological evolution which Wells later cited as the important and influential aspect of his education. He thought that science would make a better world. However, Wells also thought that humans would destroy their own race in an atomic war and eventually kill each other. Thus, he was the first to ever conceive of the idea that human beings would bring about their own apocalyptic destruction using these scientific tools. In order to prevent this from happening, Wells used his knowledge as well as former influences to write and affect people to change society. His books told of futures in which humankind evolves into smarter beings through science. H.G. Wells knew what it was like to live in less-than-decent places and completed his first novel at the age of thirty-four, which then considered him as one of the forerunners of the science fiction genre. As a humanitarian, he wanted to help people. His enduring fame for his novels is in the messages in his books. Coincidentally, Wells lived just long enough to see the use of atomic bombs in Japan, passing away on August 13, 1946. Wells once predicted, “Nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the early twentieth century than the rapidity with which war was becoming impossible. And as certainly they did not see it. They did not see it until the atomic bombs burst in their fumbling hands” (Bear). Although society never comprehended the messages while he was writing it, afterwards people understood he was saying to shape up or suffer. This is prevalent especially in The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, and The War of the Worlds, where H.G. Wells uses conflict to warn the detrimental effects of science and technology.

Man vs Technology

When scientists began to invent new advanced technology for the world, many citizens began to worry about its power and operation on themselves. Likewise, society praised Wells’ attempt to discuss this hot topic of his time and to reach out to illustrate inhumanity. Theodore Dalrymple, author of Out of the Time Machine, postulates, “He [Wells] was a pessimistic progressive who, believing on the one hand that human rationality could solve all the specific problems that existence threw in our path, yet was aware on the other hand of the perils of technical advance.” As demonstrated in the themes of many of his novels, H.G. Wells recognized science as a powerful tool. Through his works, he warns readers to use it wisely because, at any moment, he predicts that science can be the cause of mankind’s self-destruction. More specifically, Wells incorporates conflict to predict the effects of the greatness of science technology and the weakness of man combined.

The Invisible Man demonstrates the dangers of science through the conflicts between Griffin, the main character and the power of invisibility. The small and quiet town of Imping is in a state of utter disorder when an invisible man terrorizes its citizens. Both the protagonist and antagonist of the novel, Griffin is a young albino college student who accidentally makes himself invisible while performing an experiment. Through invisibility, Griffin, referred to as the “Invisible Man,” gains triumph over science and uses this power as an instrument for committing the social crimes. With this great power, he can steal, kill, and abuse anyone without a fear of being caught, as he describes, “It’s useful in getting away, it’s useful in approaching. It’s particularly useful, therefore, in killing”(Wells, Invisible 203). Likewise, Wells manages to demonstrate that when faced with power, such as invisibility, he becomes immoral and is willing to do anything for personal gain and enjoyment. However, this does not last long. As the Invisible Man tells his story of how he discovered the idea of invisibility, he states, “‘One could make an animal — a tissue — transparent! … I could be invisible!’ I repeated. To do such a thing would be to transcend magic. And I beheld, unclouded by doubt, a magnificent vision of all that invisibility might mean to a man-the mystery, the power, the freedom” (173). Wells demonstrates that Griffin does not want to share his advantages of invisibility with the entire world so that he can use it only for himself. He dreams of all the crazy things that he can do when he is an invisible man, and puts them into action. Griffin brutally murders multiple men, steals money, and terrorizes citizens of two towns. He once says, “It is killing we must do… a judicious slaying… And the invisible man, Kemp, must now establish a reign of terror” (203). The Invisible Man’s exploitation of power for inhumane actions eventually leads to his capture and death. Throughout the novel, Wells discusses the moral problems of mankind and its reaction to the power science can bring into a society.

In The Time Machine, Wells envisions the destruction of society through a time machine. Time traveling, a concept known to modern man as inconceivable, has come to life. Through this fathom of human fantasy, Wells entangles a unique blend of contrasting characters, and foreshadowing of the destruction of humanity to seem together this novel of visionary proportions. Mark Hillegas in World Literature Criticism remarks, “The Time Machine is a bleak and sober vision of man’s place in the universe” (Wells, Time 3865). The novel’s protagonist, the Time Traveller, discovers the fourth dimension of time, inventing a time machine and traveling far into the future on his own.

Followed by his novel, The War of the Worlds, Wells imagined that superior alien races could travel to earth and defeat and destroy humans, thereby not centering and dethroning humanity as the highest form of evolution. In dong so, Wells utilized Martian aliens naturally evolving in earth and threatening humanity with extinction, suggesting again that masters of earth by other life forms can displace humans. As a literary scholar, Brian Murray notes, “He [Wells] hopes thus hopes the Martian’s massive destruction of soldiers and civilians will finally teach humans ‘pity–pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion’ and will, as well, ‘promote the conception of the commonweal of mankind’.” During the time when many people believed technological process could solve many of humanity’s problems, Wells used this idea to speculate the progression humanity’s savagery and thirst for self-destruction. While watching the Martians within the tripods in the beginning of the invasion, the narrator took note, “I began to compare the Martians to human machines, to ask myself for the first time in my life how an ironclad or a steam engine would seem to an intelligent lower animal” (Well,s War 52). The narrator, with his clearly scientific viewpoint on the situation, was cool and collected even through the rest of the novel. Those who understand technology and science and embrace them are more aware of themselves and the world around them, because whether we like it or not, it is human nature. Because he was aware of technology and its reason for existence, he acted with reason when his life was at stake. He uses the invasion of Martians to depict a society under through degeneration, “Humanity’s mistake, Wells implies in the novel [The War of the Worlds], is in believing that through science and technology they had conquered nature. Nature for Wells, was a stronger force than society…ultimately, humankind could not contend with the force of nature” (Semansky). For Wells, he viewed nature as a stronger force than society. Ultimately, humankind could not contend with the force of nature. Therefore, intentionally or not, Wells illustrates just how awful it is to be at the whim of another, more dominant species. To have no moral standing, one’s life and liberty at the mercy of a foreign species is nowhere. One’s entire existence depends on his or her usefulness to another, and not on his or her own intrinsic value. Being in such a situation leaves one in a double-sided conundrum: one’s choice is either exterminated or harvested. Overall, while allegorizing emerging global economic conditions, the novel concludes on a pessimistic note of a world given over to the imperatives of endless growth and ceaseless conflict as humans attempt to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions of technologies that control them, rather than humans becoming masters of their technologies.

Man vs Man

It notes that Wells often employs the theory of evolution as a symbolism in many of his scientific romances. Since evolution occurs through thousands upon millions of years, Wells ponders about what the future could hold for the human race. The many themes and conflicts throughout the works of H. G. Wells emerge from many of life’s age old questions, while others transpire from Wells’ imagination with warnings of ideas that people have always been worrying. In doing so, Wells instills the conflict between man vs man to depict a degenerated society through science technology and humans.

One of Wells’ successful novels, The Invisible Man, illustrates the life-and-death fight between Griffin and Kemp, a colleague of his during his college years at University College. As the novel progresses, Griffin seeks help from Kemp when he is in danger. However, Kemp, who disagrees with Griffin’s plan to kill and revenge the townspeople, betrays him. Ultimately, with Kemp and the townspeople hunting after Griffin, Kemp declares, “My friends, unless we capture the madman, he will rule us with an iron fist. If we do not catch Griffin, he will roam the countryside at will, killing and maiming at every turn. These things sound cruel, I know. But it is our only chance to protect ourselves. This man is a madman. He has cut himself off from his own kind. His blood shall be upon his own head” (Wells, Invisible 205). Kemp asserts that Griffin is at war with humanity. Unfortunately, Griffin is captured and killed. He is no longer invisible, and his identity gradually reveals to the townspeople who surround him. Wells manages to use this Invisible man hunt to demonstrate the power of evil and good between the two characters.

In The Time Machine, Wells depicts the Time Traveller who asserts that the contradictory characteristics of the Eloi and Morlock exist within the individual and holds together by love and intellectual interest. Incorporating the ideas of how man might evolve, Wells creates a satire of the English class structure with two species: the Eloi, who represents the lower class, and the Morlocks who represent the upper, mentally and physically superior class. The Morlocks symbolize the evolution of the impoverished, uneducated industrial workers of Great Britain, while the Eloi signify the descendants of the rich, well-educated upper classes. James Wood, a professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard University implies, “This tale [The Time Machine] of a man who travels thousands of years hence, only to find a world in which a pale super-race is served by deprived underclass who live and work in underground darkness, is still affecting, and grows more prophetic every day.” A literary critic, James Wood depicts the ideal future utopian society to be, in fact, no different than it is today. The Eloi and Morlocks represent two different social classes with Morlocks feeding off the Eloi in order to live. According to Wells’ socialism, “Morlocks are the result of labor unions, which eventually work in their own interest and not, as he would prefer, in the interest of the technological conquest of nature”(232). John Bemrose, a Canadian novelist, describes the novel as the following, “It [The Time Machine] warned of a barbaric future in which one class of people lives cannibalistically off of another.” Bemrose states how Morlocks must feed off their own type of species in order to survive in the future society. This represents how much the Morlocks degenerate the morality of humans; allowing the Eloi to be frightened of them. Once after the Time Traveller discovers the existence of the dark Morlocks who eat the Eloi at night, his view of this new world changes: “I understood now what all the beauty of the Over-world people covered. Very pleasant was their day, as pleasant as the day of the cattle in the field. Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same” (70). The Time Traveller quotes the verses from the Bible, where he says “mankind labored to provide itselfwith ‘comfort and ease,’ that its ‘watchword’ or slogan was ‘security and permanency’.” Here, Wells manages to explain that absolute balance in society ended in the Eloi and Morlocks. For Wells, this society at peace with itself creates no challenges to the intellect thus, projects the unfair human practices on earth towards the other animals and imagines destruction of human race by organism superior than human.

Accordingly, in The War of the Worlds, the main character and curate exemplify two different views of the Martian invasion. While the main character hides from the Martians, he meets the curate, whose life represents religion. When the Martians destroy the church at which he preached, as the narrator put it, “…this tremendous tragedy had driven him to the very verge of his reason” (Wells, War 70). The narrator noticed immediately that the curate was not in a right state of mind. By adding this character as the narrator’s unwanted sidekick, Wells is implying that “religion collapses under calamity” (71) and is therefore a weaker belief system than science and reason. Contrasting the narrator and the curate, it is obvious who is more reasonable and less so; Wells uses words like “demented” and “vacant” to describe the curate, whereas the narrator speaks in a “matter-of-fact tone” and is “understanding.” At one point, the curate asked the narrator, “What are these Martians?” (70) and without missing a beat, the narrator replied, “What are we?” The narrator’s perspective on life kept his mind clear, focused, and reasonable.

Man vs Society

The most important way that Wells addresses the question of being human is his exploration of inhumanity. Allegorically speaking, his three novels all contain separate yet important contexts regarding social structures, ideas and the consequences of both notions. Science and its relationship with the people, as well as the evil of money and social detachment are just a few of the critical ideologies used by Wells.

The novel, The Invisible Man, presents human beings shattering the limits of scientific possibility and creating a new type of freakish being. Wells demonstrates the idea of dangers associated with science. Not science itself, perhaps, but the hubris associated with it, humanity’s search for omniscience and the desires to not only know, but to control the natural.

More specifically, the conflict in this novel is a mere fight between Griffin and the townspeople. Referred to as the Invisible Man, Griffin commits numerous accounts of crimes in the town he is in. After committing all the serious crimes in town, everyone in Imping is after Griffin. However, Griffin, who is no longer able to escape from the townspeople, decides to fight against them head-to-head, “…in the morning he [Griffin] was himself again, active, powerful, angry, and malignant, prepared for his last great struggle against the world” (Wells, Invisble 211). He continues, “This announces the first day of the Terror…This is day one of year one of the new epoch, -the Epoch of the Invisible Man. I am Invisible Man the First.” Griffin proclaims himself the masterof society, eradicates the old calendar- and announces a new era to Imping. Wells seems to interpret his message in a dire representation of a non-utopian society resulted by human evolution. Eventually, the Invisible Man’s furious attempt to avenge his betrayal leads to his death. American literary critic, Paul Cantor acknowledges, “Griffin’s invisibility oddly comes to symbolize the weakness and vulnerability of modern man, the way he becomes a nonentity under the pressure of mass society.” The narrator uses the Invisible Man to experiment with the depth to which a person can descend when there are no social restrictions to suppress his or her behavior. More so, Wells uses symbolism to take an economic approach on the downfall of human society. Paul Cantor continues, “The Invisible Man is an economic as well as a scientific parable, with money as its central subject.” He reasons, “Griffin’s invisibility symbolizes the working of an impersonal, decentralized, –dangerously chaotic market economy that fails to respect the dictates of either traditional communal ties or established government authorities.” Wells attempts to reason the decentralization of society due to the demand of money people have. Ultimately, people’s desire for money leads to an unpleasant future society. Specifically, the message pertains to say, “If The Invisible Man allegorizes the dangerous intersection of scientific mastery and human limitation, it also demonstrates the alienation of the modern individual and the ‘invisible’ subtleties of Wells’ narrative method”(Scheick 1). Wells’ socialism is ultimately aesthetic and aristocratic in nature; it is rooted in his conviction that, as an artistic visionary, he is superior to the ordinary mass of humanity.

In The Time Machine, Wells utilizes the Eloi and Morlocks to portray humans mutating into new species and transcending the boundaries of space, time, and the forms of human being. In Wells’ dark vision, the Time Traveler discovers that humanity is sharply divided between species or class. As a literary research scholar, Bruce Sommerville observes, “The Time Machine depicted a future ‘that ran counter to the placid assumption of that time that evolution was a pro-human force making things better and better for mankind.” The social structure portrayed in The Time Machine concerning the evolution of man, assists in Wells’ criticizing life and society for its intricate difficulties. Wells was not the first man to realize and acknowledge the importance of Darwin’s theory for the future of civilization, but he is the first to assimilate that theory into his stories. Concerning society with the future, The Time Machine is seen as “a prophecy of the effects of rampant industrialization on that class conflict that was already, in the nineteenth, century a social powder keg.” (McConnell, 438) Wells always touched upon the topic of a degeneration society, as well as how it would become in the future due to this destruction and chaos. His view on society was that the classes would clash and ultimately “they might become two races, mutually uncomprehending and murderously divided,” (Suvin, 435) His predictions of future societies were all much alike, war-torn class problems, much like what is seen now a days. The narrator of The Time Machine says of the Time Traveler that he “saw in the growing pile of civilization only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end” (Wells, Time 82). In the middle of the novel, the Time Traveller becomes friends with one of the Eloi, Weena, who follows him wherever he goes. The Time Traveller and Weena are in search for the lost time machine when they do not notice that they are being watched by the Morlocks, “Upon the shrubby hill of its edge Weena would have stopped, fearing the darkness before us; but a singular sense of impending calamity, that should indeed have served me as a warning, drove me onward”(64). Wells clearly shows that despite of human being’s sense of weariness, they tend to ignore the moral values within a human being. This is another reference to society’s survival of the fittest, as he depicts civilization tearing at each other, and in the end, doing away with their creator. In fact, even though the Time Traveller sensed that something unpleasant was to come upon them, they continued to follow their choice, which led to the loss of Weena. Wells depicts what can happen if society does not stay alert to the consequences of progress.

Similarly, in The War of the Worlds, Wells emphasizes on humans vs the Martian invasion. It is the eighth day since the Martian invasion took place, and the curate has gone mad, “On me and mine be the punishment laid. We have sinned, we have fallen short” (Wells, War 156). The curate sees the Martian invasion as a divine judgment passed on humanity and for that reason he self criticizes himself. Wells, on the other hand, incorporates the narrator to see the Martian invasion as an opportunity for humanity to realize its identity and to unite in a world political, and social organization. Wells wants humans to be Martians, even if he does not illustrate what the nature of their society might be.

The ethical questions of humanity’s effect on society can be very hard to answer. Wells uses conflicts in all of his three novels, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, and The War of the Worlds, to explore the evolutionary perspectives on the fate of humanity into the realm of what is known as the fifth discontinuity. More specifically, literary critic Alex Einstein sums up Wells’ work into a whole, “Wells outlined one model for the ultimate evolution of humankind… the culmination of higher intelligence is a globular entity, brought about by the influence of steadily advancing technology.” The writings of H.G. Wells’ offer a highly dialectical vision of science and technology as providing both tremendous benefits and dangers for human beings. Well’s belief suggests that the human race may degenerate or disappear as an offspring of evolution, or that a more intelligent and powerful alien species may appear to enslave or destroy humans. Wells was particularly concerned over themes that related to the evolution of society and to the ways in which society served or failed to serve the interests of the masses. Today, Wells is well-known for his science fiction works, but even these represent a version of his interest in other subjects; notably various sociological concerns of the era as to what progress would mean into the next century and how human beings would fare in the developing scientific world.

Works Cited

  1. Beaumont, Matehew. “Red Sphinx: Mechanics of the Uncanny in The Time Machine.”              ProQuest Platinum. July 2006. ProQuest. Web. 31 Oct. 2011.
  2. Cantor, Paul A., and Peter Hufnagel. “The Empire of the Future: Imperialism and Modernism     in H.G. Wells.” ProQuest Platinum. ProQuest, 2006. Web. 31 Oct. 2011.
  3. Cantor, Paul A. “The Invisible Man and the Invisible Hand.” ProQuest Platinum. ProQuest, 5     June 2010. Web. 31 Oct. 2011.
  4. Dalrymple, Theodore. “Out of The Time Machine.” New Criterion 24.10 (2006): 17+.              Literature Resource Center. Web. 22 Oct. 2011.
  5. Eisenstein, Alex. “The Time Machine and the End of Man.” Science Fiction Studies 3.2              (July 1976): 161-165. Rpt. in Children’s Literature Review. Ed. Jennifer Baise. Vol.     64. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 22 Oct. 2011.
  6. Hillegas, Mark R. “H.G. Wells.”World Literature Criticism. Vol. 6. Detroit, Mich. [u.a.: Gale       Research, 1992. 3865. Print.
  7. Kelleghan, Fiona. “The Invisible Man.” Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature.      Pasadena, CA: Salem, 2002. 299. Print.
  8. Murray, Brian. “H(erbert) G(eorge) Wells.” British Mystery Writers, 1860-1919. Ed.              Bernard Benstock and Thomas F. Staley. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. Dictionary of              Literary Biography Vol. 70. Literature Resource Center. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.
  9. Scheick, William. “H. G. Wells: Overview.” St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers.              Ed. Jay P. Pederson. 4th ed. New York: St. James Press, 1996. Literature Resource         Center. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.
  10. Semansky, Chris. “Critical Essay on The Time Machine.” Novels for Students. Ed. David              A.        Galens. Vol. 17. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 23 Oct.            2011.
  11. Sommerville, Bruce David. “The Time Machine: A Chronological and Scientific Revision.”       Wellsian 17 (Winter 1994): 11-29. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed.             Janet Witalec. Vol. 133. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 6 Nov.   2011.
  12. Wells, H.G. The Time Machine and The Invisible Man. New York: Fine Creative Media, 2003.   Print.
  13. The War of the Worlds. New York: Fine Creative Media, 2004. Print.
  14. Wood, James. “War of the Wells — H. G.: The History of Mr. Wells by Michael Foot.”              ProQuest Platinum. ProQuest, 5 Dec. 1995. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.

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A Study of the Themes Present in the Works of H. G. Wells. (2021, Sep 23). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-study-of-the-themes-present-in-the-works-of-h-g-wells-essay

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