In the assigned reading about and by H. G. Wells there is little to indicate that he is a racist. In the two short stories Wells has the narrator refer to African natives as “heathens” in “Aepyornis Islands and as “niggers” in “Jimmy Goggles the God. ” Likewise in the assigned sections of the of book Tono-Bungay, the narrator refers to niggers. By today’s standards such words are often automatically assumed to be a sign of bigotry against a race, and if they were written today they might very well indicate such a tendency.
However at the time when Wells wrote, political correctness had not reared its ugly head and people, particularly English people describing the natives of Africa as “niggers. ” This was the word used. It was not necessary a deprecating term, it was “the” term. When Wells uses the word he is conforming to the vernacular of the day. This is not to say that there isn’t something of an elitist attitude in the characters Wells created.
There seems to be three things that Wells consistently lampoons: the Christian religion, the ignorance of people of all sorts, and the superior, toffee-nosed attitude of the English. Wells was a writer of satire. He pokes fun at religion both when he describes the readiness of the natives to consider him a god in “Jimmy Goggles the God” as well as enjoying the playing of a practical joke on the missionary to embarrass him in front of the villagers.
He clearly dislikes ignorance, particularly those people who foolishly pontificate on things they know nothing about such as the orchids and the aepyornis, and the case of Dawson v. Butcher. Lastly he enjoys satirizing the overly self-important attitude of English men who go into the jungle and expect this to be just they he expected them to be when he was sitting back in his private club in London. It is as if anything that is not English is improper and is only tolerated because the standards of the people in such places as the jungle are embarrassingly low and likely to stay that way.
In Tono-Bungay Wells lets the narrator tell his story of a trip into the jungle where a man came from a village and “hailed us in and unknown tongue” (emphasis mine). He did not say it was a language he did not speak, but because it was not Oxbridge English, it was “unknown. ” Interestingly, because Wells sees fit to make fun of such a superior attitude, one cannot help but wonder if he is not poking fun at himself at the same time because of his attitude toward members of these groups of people.