Science Fiction 451

Sep 19

“The Comet” by W.E.B. Dubois is a fantastic sorry about a comet which wipes out all humans in the vicinity of the two main characters; a poorer black man and a rich white women. The two work together to try and find help throughout the first day of the Apocalypse. As night falls the two feel as if they should toss aside their racial and class boundaries to repopulate for the sake of the Earth. As the two are in an embrace about to give into their primal human instincts, we discover that the woman’s family is still alive and so is the man’s and that it was only New York that was obliterated. Once this it is established that the rest of society is intact, the woman goes back to being rich and the man is treated once again as a second class citizen and is immediately threatened. Only through the changed heart of the woman is he not killed, and is in fact rewarded.

At first read I pretty much figured out that W.E.B. Dubois was using a natural disaster to show that society and society alone was the cause for all the racial prejudice of his time, and that when it is destroyed humanity takes over. Then as I read it again, I wondered why it needed to be a Comet? It could have easily been an earthquake or flood or even a war, but instead Dubois used a comet. Why a comet?

I think he needed to use a comet for several reasons:

1. Its mysterious.

A flood or an earthquake are fairly common things people; have experienced them before. So if Dubois used one to wipe out the city he would have to have experienced one before to accurately describe it. Most people have never experienced a comet, so he could apply any attributes he needed to it to fit his story.

2. It had to be something that could be apocalyptic.

The natural disasters I mentioned before could only do so much damage. It was important for this story, that there was a possibility of global annihilation and of all the natural disasters a comet or asteroid are the only ones that could achieve this.

3.It’s biblical

The use of comets to signify important events has been used throughout time and especially (some argue) in the bible. It’s pretty obvious that Dubois is putting his characters in an Adam and Eve situation and only a comet could really signify that their meeting was of such importance.

So because of these reasons Dubois used a comet, and laid down the basis for many Science fiction stories to come.

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