Race in “The Comet”

While W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Comet” is a science fiction story depicting post-apocalyptic New York, it is much more than that; to me, it is a story primarily concerned with race relations that merely uses the science fiction genre as a vehicle through which to express disdain for prejudice and racism.

The aspects of this short story that classify it as science fiction include the destructive comet and its aftermath, or the annihilation of New York City and most of its inhabitants. While the thought of this actually occurring does file itself into the estrangement category of science fiction’s cognitive estrangement, this is a mild science fiction story as far as the slightly unbelievable goes. In my opinion, the reason for this is that Du Bois was not as much concerned with the science fiction aspect of it as he was the message he was trying to send about race relations.

Jim Davis, the main character that is saved from the comet because he is doing a menial task in the cellar of a bank, is a black man who is nearly lynched by a white mob for saving a young, rich white woman named Julia in the aftermath. Both Julia and Jim acknowledge that before the tragedy, they would never have talked to each other, with Julia even saying that Jim seemed more human to her than before. It took total destruction and the possibility of having to repopulate Earth for two people of different races to coexist peacefully without prejudices or hatred. To me, this is Du Bois trying to tell his audience that it should not take a disaster of monumental proportions or something completely ridiculous to create a racially equal atmosphere free from judgment. By setting this story in the science fiction genre, Du Bois is able to highlight this idea quite well by placing a familiar controversial topic in an unfamiliar literary setting.

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