Planet of the Apes Essay - Critical Context

Pierre Boulle

Critical Context

Planet of the Apes continues the tradition of such works as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1946) in its use of the conceits of a society as a foil against which to reveal the foolishness of contemporary practices and mores. Indeed, Pierre Boulle is at his best in describing the psychological testing and its possible misinterpretations. While all three tales are closer to allegories than fantasies, the science-fiction conceits that Boulle employs limit his tale. That Professor Antelle finances the expedition privately is also an acknowledgment of the novel’s literary antecedents, especially those of Jules Verne. Verne’s tales tend to be more about adventure, however, and are usually without Boulle’s poignant examinations of social conventions and conceits.

The underpinning premise of Boulle’s novel—that of humans causing their own apocalypse—is less blatant here than in other popular works that dealt with the possibility of self-species destruction, such as Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957). As a cautionary tale, Boulle’s work is necessarily muted—and, like a trumpet, enhanced by its subtlety.

Ultimately, Boulle’s tale of “man’s inhumanity to man” strikes a chord with readers because of its belief that, even in the face of overwhelming prejudice, the values and virtues that make people “human” will prevail. Humanity, like earth, will abide.