The Neutral Nature of the Aeropile In 1945, in order to prevent further causalities of war, Albert Einstein invented the nuclear bomb, which ended the World War II immediately by destroying millions of innocent lives in Japan. In his interview, Einstein remarked, “inventing the nuclear bomb is the biggest failure of my life” (History Channel). Seemingly, technology could be associated with an evil nature. H. G. Wells, a nineteenth century writer, would disagree with the notion that technology can have an evil nature. In 1899, fourteen years before the invention of airplane, H. G.
Wells presents his futuristic vision of a flying machine, which he names the “aeropile,” in his novel, When the Sleeper Wakes. In the imagined society in his novel, flying represents a variety of power, including the power to control, and the power to escape from being controlled. In When the Sleeper Wakes, a novel that depicts Graham’s journey from a miserable man who suffers from insomnia to the legal ruler of the world after his unexplained trance for two hundreds and three years, Wells presents various functions of the aeropile, from motivation to manipulation, to represent the neutral nature of flying.
Thus, the nature of flying, like many types of technology, is solely determined by the one who uses it. Wells’ view on the nature of flying can be illustrated in three dimensions: Graham’s first flight, Ostrog’s manipulation of people with the flying power, and Graham’s use of flying power to “fight for the world” in the ending (174). First, the experience of flight liberates Graham, proving that the aeropile can shift personality. Awaking after two hundred and three years of trance, Graham’s mind is dualistic.
On the one hand, he is overwhelmed by his new duties, which he believes are associated with “danger and responsibility” (89). On the other hand, he is excited about his role and eager to make positive changes for the people. At this point, Graham is still feeling insecure in his power, shown clearly when Ostrog convinces him that he is the master of the world, he responds, “And I. – Is it indeed that I? ”(88). (good movement? ) In particular, Graham shows a deep interest in the aeropile, the most advanced flying technology in the new world and goes on a flight.
This flight gives Graham the energy and joy he had never experienced: “His exhilaration increased rapidly, became a sort of intoxication” (122). The word “exhilaration” has a connotation of “a cheering or enlivening influence” (OED), but this feeling becomes “intoxication,” “the poisoning of the moral or mental faculties” (OED), suggesting that this state of excitement is, in fact, poisoning Graham’s mind, because the exhilaration is blinding his judgment. The excitement of the flight makes Graham oblivious to what Ostrog is doing.
He is blinded by the pleasure as the new “ruler,” neglecting the fact that Ostrog, the real ruler with power, only sees Graham as a “prisoner,” a new figurehead (168). However, the flight does, in fact, liberate Graham and gives him the confidence he needs as a ruler. The other definition of the word “intoxication”, “the action or power of exhilarating or highly exciting the mind; elation or excitement beyond the bounds of sobriety” (OED), is very similar to the word “exhilaration”. The double use of words meaning both a mental state of excitement, with the latter a stronger version of the former, perhaps suggests Graham’s thirst for power.
In his society, flying symbolizes power and is only reserved for the privileged class. Perhaps, Graham’s pleasure in flying suggests that he enjoys and is eager to reaffirm his privilege, or power, as the ruler of the world. In other words, his exhilaration is partly derived from his joy at feeling the power he has. Before the flight, Graham is drowned by the anxiety and confusion of his new identity, as illustrated in his remark, “I know nothing” (115). The flying experience liberates him with the “exhilarating” experience and eases his uncertainty and self-doubt.
Thus, the flying experience assures Graham that he is no longer the miserable man who suffers from insomnia in the 19th century, but is now the privileged ruler who holds the power to change his fate and the world. Second, the aeropile can bring out positive qualities in the people who fly them. In the speedy yet steady aeropile, Graham beholds various edifices, including the Eiffel Tower (123). Here, Wells shows a connection between the past and the future, where Graham and the Eiffel Tower (the past) are connected to the the aeropile (the future).
The Eiffel Tower is built in 1889, the era Graham lives in before he sleeps. And two hundred and three years later, he can still behold this old edifice in the aeropile, the latest technology, showing that Graham is a man who endures the challenge of time, and also able to live in the present. Also, the Effel Tower symbolizes that Grahan has figuratively and literally risen above the old world. However, Graham’s ignorance is revealed as he only “tri[es] to make out places he had known with the hollow basin of the world below” (122).
Here, despite his limited knowledge about the new world , Graham only shows interest in the things that he recognizes, but shows no interest in learning new knowledge. His indifference to the “drift of the smoke” suggests his lack of curiosity and responsibility (123). Prior to the smoke observation, Graham describes every landscapes and edifices he sees in “minute detail” (122). However, he does not “heed”, or pay attention to, the smoke. As illustrated in his indifferent attitude towards the smoke, which associated with “trouble”, Graham intends to escape from his responsibility as a ruler—protect the people’s welfare.
Thus, Graham’s lack of curiosity toward the people’s “trouble” Despite his initial lack of curiosity and responsibility, the flight later stimulates Graham’s qualities as a leader. No longer be satisfied with sitting and watching, Graham convinces the aeronaut to let him take control of the flight. The aeronaut shows reluctance to let Graham flies the aerophile. Then, Graham asks, “Am I Master of the earth? ” (125). This rhetorical question suggests that now he feels very comfortable with his new identity. The exhilaration brought by the flight subtlety transforms Graham into a leader.
Here, he naturally uses the word “Master,” which is an identity he is unsure of before, to describe himself, showing that he completely abandons his old identity, and embraces and believes in his new identity—the legal master of the world. Then, he strongly orders, “Now. Take your hands off those levers” (125). Here, Graham’s tone emulates the tone of a King—certain and commanding. The motivating nature of flying awakes Graham’s potential as a leader. As he learns how to fly the plane, he begins to realize he may be the chosen one to save the world from disaster.
After he has convinced the aeronaut, he tells the aeronaut to “hold [his] wrist”(125). The action “holding [his] wrist” symbolizes his willingness to learn. Here, he begins to realize his knowledge is very limited. And as the ruler of the world, he can no longer be the ignorant man he once was, and have to be open to new knowledge. He is no longer the man who only shows interest in the things that he knows. At this point, he is no longer ashamed of his ignorance, but commandingly seeks guidance from his people to enrich his knowledge. However, the knowledge of flying the aeropile is confidential.
Only certified aeronauts can learn how to fly. Scared of the consequences of teaching Graham to fly, the aeronaut asks, “Will you protect me? ” Grahams responds, “Yes! If I have to burn London” (125). This flight develops Graham’s responsibility—let his people rely on his protection by any means. This quality reveals its importance in the ending, as he takes the risk to overthrow Ostrog’s cruel ruling later in the novel. Thus, the flying experience develops Graham’s curiosity, confidence and responsibility, thereby preparing him to become the true hero who saves the world.
Third, the aeropile gives Ostrog the power to forcefully manipulate people, showing that the aeropile, like many other technologies, can become a power to fulfill evil deeds. Clearly, Ostrog is very skilled at controlling people’s mind. On the one hand, he controls Graham by awarding him the title of the legal ruler of the world, and blinding him from his evil intentions. On the other hand, he controls the people by having Graham, the real ruler in the people’s mind, be his figurehead. However, his evil deeds are gradually revealing themselves.
As he makes the people suffer even worse than the white council era, people around the world are starting another rebellion to overthrow Ostrog. Once Ostrog has realized he cannot control people’s mind anymore, he decides to use the power of aeropile to forcefully manipulate the people: “Ostrog has ordered the Black Police from South Africa…The Black Police. The Black Police” (163). Although originally not associated with violence, the aeropile has a great capability of transportation could be used to bring violence.
With the transportation power of the aeroplane, Ostrog mobilizes his Black Police, an army from South Africa, intending to suppress rebellions around the world (167). In other words, the aeropile gives Ostrog the power to easily bring violence to London. The three repetitions of “Black Police” strongly stress the people’s fear of this power. Seemingly, the people in Lodon are afraid of the Black Police. Wells depicts, “everyone was shouting, that men yelled to one another, that women took up screaming” (163).
Here, Ostrog intends to create an atmosphere of fear among the people, hoping that the fear would keep the people under his control again. However, highly loyal to Graham, “the Master”, the people is once again united when they know “the Master is betrayed” by Ostrog. Therefore, after losing mental control of the people, Ostrog’s attempt to physically manipulate people with the aid of the aeropile also fails. In addition, Ostrog’s escape with the aeropile continues the idea that the aeropile could be used to fulfill evil deeds.
As the rebellion proceeds, Ostrog decides to escape from all the responsibility he has by flying away: “Too late! The aeropile dwindled smaller and smaller, and curved about and swept gracefully downward to the flying stage form which it had so lately risen. Ostrog has escaped” (173). By remarking it is now “too late” to capture Ostrog, Wells makes the readers naturally feel that the fact that Ostrog has escaped is a bad thing. Hence, Wells seems to suggest that Ostrog should pay for everything he does.
However, with the aeropile’s flying power to escape, Ostrog partially escapes karma, the idea that states one’s action determines one’s destiny (OED)—setting him free from his karmic destiny, although the novels leaves open the possibility that Ostrog is later punished for his deeds. Here, the aeropile neutral power to fly is “dwindled” or “decline [s] in quality, degenerate [s] (OED), by his use to escape from the consequences he should face. However, to consider it another way, while the aeropile helps Ostrog to escape from his punishments, it also diminishes his power to rule.
The fact that he escapes from the people is a sign of the people’s victory in this rebellion. In other words, Ostrog loses his authority to manipulate the world. After his defeat in London, Ostrog is “looking […] to the south”— France(193). However, with his bankrupted reputation and diminishing power, he is, nevertheless, exiled, somewhat similar to Napoleans’s exile after his defeat in the Battle of Waterloo. Furthermore, the description of the aeropile as becoming “smaller and smaller” suggests that the suffering of the people would stop soon because the influences of Ostrog is, also, getting smaller and smaller.
Thus, while the power of the aeropile helps Ostrog to escape, it also diminishes his power. Lastly, Graham’s final battle with Ostrog reinforces the idea that the nature of a technology is solely determined by how one uses it. In order to earn time for his people to set up the weapons to shoot down Ostrog’s air fleet, Graham takes the responsibility to delay Ostrog’s fleet. As discussed when he “protects” the aeronaut even if he has to “burn London”, Graham has the quality of a leader, which is protecting his people by any means.
Here, with the power of the aeropile, Graham bravely fights against injustice, letting his desperate people to rely on him. Graham innovatively uses the aeropile, which is not designed for fighting, to knock down some of Ostrog’s aeropiles: “He dropped like a stone through the whistling air. It seemed scarce a second from that soaring moment before he struck the foremost airplane” (190). Unlike Ostrog, who uses the transportation power of the aeropile to bring violence, Graham transforms the aeropile into a weapon. Here, the initial intention of the aeropile is completely distorted, becoming a new type of power.
Although Graham is using the aeropile as a violent weapon, this fact alone does not suggest that Graham possesses a bad nature, because his intention is good—saving the people. After successfully earn time for his people, “a glorious exhilaration possessed him” (192). Here, Wells links “exhilaration”, or excitement, to the aeropile again. However, Graham is not exhilarated, or intoxicated by the flying experience anymore. Now, his “exhilaration” is derived from his joy to save London, to stop Ostrog’s “calculated treachery” (194). In other words, he is “exhilarated” when he knows he saves the people from Ostrog’ evil ruling.
In addition, Graham makes a trade— his life for the welfare of the people—vividly showing that Graham’s transformation from the man from the nineteenth century to the King of the world is complete: “His troubles about humanity, about his inadequacy, were gone forever” (192)). As suggested by Graham’s use of the violent power of the aeropile to fight against injustice, violence is not inherently bad. In conclusion, Wells’ use of aeropile in the novel suggests the neutral nature of technology. The aeropile can influence people positively or negatively, solely depends on the nature of the one who uses it.
It is interesting to see that, Wells can foresee the neutral nature of an aeropile before the aeropile is invented. A good example to support his view is the tragic 911 attack. The terrorists manipulate the airplane with violent power, and turn the airplane, a transportation tool, into a weapon of mass destructive, taking hundreds of innocent lives. In transforming the airplane into a weapon, Graham’s intention is good, while the terrorists’ intention is malicious. Therefore, technology itself does not have a nature. Its nature is provided by the one who uses it.