H.G. Wells and Terror Management Theory

There exists in Psychology a principle that addresses mans innate ability to live normally while simultaneously being aware of the inevitability of his own death: this is Terror Management Theory. Sheldon Solomon, one of the men who developed this theory from nascence, suggests that, in order to proceed without being perpetually debilitated by fear of death, man must live in a state of somewhat controlled ignorance; he must ignore the necessarily bleak ending of his own

story so as to be able to write the middle – the only part which he himself may control.

... terror management fail.

When Reading H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine I was unavoidably reminded of this concept; in his novel, however, Wells speaks, not in terms of the life of one man, but instead speaks to the life of humanity as a whole (though, necessarily, heuses a singular protagonist as a medium for this sweeping commentary). Asthe novel begins Wells presents us with the most pleasant of settings in which mankind – represented by a collective of professionals – basks in a “luxurious after-dinner atmosphere” (Wells, 1), blissfully unaware of the future. In the “soft radiance of the incandescent lights” (1) the men sit placidly, content in their ignorance to the fate of the world; mankind – for now – is blind to the future.

Terror Management Theory suggests, however, that once man has become aware of his inevitable demise he does not ignore, but rather manages, his terror; assumedly then, upon discovering the grim fate of humanity, the course of man’s progression through time (if not dinner) would continue largely uninhibited. H. G. Wells suggests exactly this notion in the closing passages of his book. Mankind – presently represented by the only remaining dinner guest: the narrator – is now aware that it “must inevitably fall back on itself and destroy its masters” (115); this discovery, however, does not seem to affect the present. Wells suggests that, instead of being overwhelmed by this knowledge, we “must live as though it were not so” (115); we must ignore and persevere. As the text ends mankind, now conscious of its predicament, regresses to its initial state of “comfort” and “tenderness” (115); our terror managed, we continue happily on our long road to the end.

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