When the Sleeper Wakes Critical Essays

H. G. Wells


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

When the Sleeper Wakes marks a watershed in H. G. Wells’s career as a literary prophet. From 1895 to 1899, Wells consistently offered his readers a dystopic view of the future. Such works as The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898) hold out little hope for the future of humankind and betray a mistrust of science and progress. After 1899, however, Wells, spurred on by the scientific positivism of his day and the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, began to write the utopic works with which his contemporaries most often associated him. These works include Mankind in the Making (1903), A Modern Utopia (1905), Men Like Gods (1923), and The Shape of Things to Come (1933). When the Sleeper Wakes, coming at the end of his dystopic period, may be the darkest of all his novels. New London sparkles with the scientific and technical progress of his later utopias, but mechanization, rather than liberating workers from drudgery, reduces them to mind-benumbed automatons. As in Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888), in which the protagonist also reaches the future via a mesmeric trance, Wells’s New London is a highly organized One State; also as in Bellamy’s work, the socialist anthill is a place not of efficiency and happy labor but of drone workers reduced to a...

(The entire section is 547 words.)