Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As a work of farcical fantasy, the story is representative of a vast literature about ordinary people who are endowed unexpectedly with miraculous powers, for example, Aladdin of Alf layla wa-laya (fifteenth century; English translation, 1706-1708). H. G. Wells himself stated, “It is always about life being altered that I write, or about people developing schemes for altering life.” In “The Man Who Could Work Miracles,” this idea is presented in a mischievous manner: Wells combines seemingly occult elements with comedy to reflect his perceptive criticism of human limitations and possibilities. In commenting about this approach, Wells stated, “I have never once ’presented’ life. My apparently most objective books are criticisms and incitements to change.”

Wells foresaw some of the real problems of the twentieth century, such as the congestion of cities and the humane or inhumane use of science. He questioned progress and stated that all of his books asserted “the insecurity of progress and the possibility of human degeneration and extinction.” This idea is nowhere more apparent than in the failed efforts of Fotheringay and the vicar to speed up progress and aid the world, and it is clearly a repetition of the theme of The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), wherein the benevolent efforts of Dr. Moreau end in disaster. In like manner, when Fotheringay and the vicar attempt to alter nature, Fotheringay’s lack of a sense of...

(The entire section is 415 words.)