Vainglory and Metaphorical Blindness


To continue with my (self-congratulatory at best and vain at worst) series of Coursera essays, here is the 340-word essay on H.G.Wells I wrote for my free online ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction’ course.

One of the major elements of science-fiction literature is to attempt to predict or speculate about possible future events which might come to pass if mankind traverses a certain scientific and moral path. Wells, however, forces us to stop on the way and consider the journey itself—what happens when we presume to being enlightened, as the masses in ‘The Star’, but in fact, are as blind as the people of ‘The Country of the Blind’.

“Common-sense was sturdy everywhere” [1], Wells writes sarcastically. In the face of catastrophe, nine out of ten men on earth are “scornful, jesting, […] inclined to persecute the obdurate fearful” [1]. He even equates common-sense to “barbarism and savagery”; the men, with “unalterable convictions”, scorn the respectable mathematician and go about their businesses unheeding the star[1]. Similarly, the blind men mock Nunez and steadfastly stick to their beliefs—”it was an article of faith with them” [2]. So much so that in order to cure Nunez of what they think are delusions, they decide to surgically remove his eyes and thus make him “perfectly sane” [2]. “Thank Heaven for science”, Yacob says [2], and again Wells hints at the dangers of vainglory.

In both the stories, Wells warns us against intolerance and self-aggrandizement. Science enlightens mankind so that at any point in time we know more than we did in the past, but we should also realize that knowledge is illimitable, that there are many things we haven’t yet discovered. Just as the blind men lived in a world of their own making and limitations, so can we live either in a blind valley of a world or choose to open our eyes to truth and wisdom. Like the mathematician, we can hold “all the universe […] in the grip of this small brain” [1], the only requirements are acceptance and humility. Otherwise, one day someone will truthfully say that “Man has lived in vain.” [1]

Works cited:
[1] The Star, by H.G Wells
[2] The Country of the Blind, by H.G. Wells

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