Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 381
Themes of Tono-Bungay by H. G. Wells include social class, personal worth, and the inherent emptiness of commercialism.
Social class is a major theme in the novel and something that the protagonist, George, is always trying to overcome. He's raised by servants but gets a taste of a more elite life when he becomes friends with Beatrice. George has two years to appreciate the finer things in life before he argues with another noble child, Beatrice doesn't come to his defense, and he is sent away. For the rest of his life, he attempts to overcome his own low birth and achieve a higher social standing. Part of the reason for this is that he believes it's a better life.
The question of personal worth is a major theme in the novel. George is always determining his personal worth by the amount of money that he makes and the levels of society he's able to access. Part of this is because he's in love with Beatrice even after he's married. He wants to be with her, but she is unable to see his worth as a primary partner because he isn't wealthy. Rather than pursue the things that give him worth from the inside—his sense of honesty, right-and-wrong, and intelligence—George repeatedly makes choices that take him away from these things in pursuit of money. This is why he ends up in a career that is contrary to his beliefs at the beginning of the novel.
Commercialism is another theme in the novel. Tono-Bungay is a medicinal product sold by George's uncle that isn't exactly good for people. However, it's commercial success comes from an extreme advertising campaign. George sees the first advertisement that reads: "THE SECRET OF VIGOR, TONO-BUNGAY". This is when his uncle's business and shady product takes over his life. He's able to make a good income pushing a product that he knows isn't a good product. George has never been a fan of commercialism. His wife's desire for material things without an inner life of emotional depth is what sent him seeking affairs and rekindled his love for Beatrice. But in the pursuit of money, George works to sell Togo-Bunday, even though "the sale of Tono-Bungay was a thoroughly dishonest proceeding."
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