H.G. Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE by Elton Townend Jones
H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine sounds a bleak note about humanity’s future –
“…there is no moon, the constellations are different, the atmosphere is thin, and the sun is dying — these are reminders that the human species is but a blip when considered in the scale of geologic time. The universe is much, much older than humans—so, too, the Earth—and both will endure long after humans are unrecognizable or gone.”
The story was conceived as a cautionary tale to the capitalists of his Victorian era England, criticizing the inequality of contemporary society’s class system. The Time Traveler’s journey into the far future of mankind demonstrates that man will evolve into barbarism and decadence; that books and civilization will be left to fall into ruin. Wells highlights the potential dangers of a capitalist society, using a science fiction angle to point out the split that naturally occurs when classes are so severely separated.
“I hate and despise a shrewish suspicion of foreigners and foreign ways; a man, who can look me in the face, laugh with me, speak truth and deal fairly, is my brother.” – H.G.Wells; What is Coming? Published in 1916
Strongly inspired by the contemporary publications of Charles Darwin and Karl Marx, H.G. Wells uses the concept of time travel, and the invention of the time machine, as a vehicle for exploring the issues of his era: class, industrialization, and the implications of Darwinian evolution, degeneration, and imperialism. The Time Machine can be read as Wells’ attempt to understand the meaning of our existence in light of the theory of evolution; examining the role of man in the modern world.
The Time Machine starts off as a deceptive communist utopia that is ultimately revealed to be an exaggerated future vision of capitalist dystopia. When the confirmed socialist H. G. Wells wrote The Time Machine in 1895, Industrial England was the workshop of the world and had a capitalist economy based on rich people making their money off the backs of poor factory workers; human beings were cheaper to install than steam engines and much more adaptable in their behavior.
In the future world experienced by The Time Traveler, most traces of British civilization had vanished and nature had long reclaimed the land; buildings were in crumbling disarray, filling the earth with “ruinous splendor”. Humankind had devolved into smaller, weaker, and nearly genderless individuals who ate only fruit and lived in large communal quarters. These simple minded people possessed the intellect and attention spans of children without any ambitions, who spent their days eating, sleeping, and playing. These Eloi lived in harmony with nature; picking flowers to decorate themselves and fruit from the trees when hungry. Since The Time Traveler never encountered any old or ill Eloi, he assumed that they had eradicated all diseases in their utopian paradise. At first glance, the Eloi seem to inhabit a classless society.
Upon further exploration, The Time Traveler soon encounters a second strain of humanity –the Morlocks; savage brutes who live underground and he soon realizes that the Eloi and the Morlocks are both descendants of Victorian humankind. The decadent Eloi are the descendants of the ruling elite, the bourgeois capitalists. While the barbaric Morlocks are the descendants of the poor factory workers who, having to work to survive, kept getting exiled out of the sunlight by the bourgeois until they had no choice but to live underground and adapt to the darkness. The proletariat, Morlocks, provided for the aristocratic Eloi, until in consequence, their brains and physiques became stunted from lack of stimulation. They stopped eating meat, and the Morlocks, who still required the nutrients that only meat could provide, started taking care of the Eloi as if they were cattle… and eating them as such.
The division of humanity into two different species, one the leisure class who live above ground, the other the working class who have been forced under the earth into caverns and tunnels, with the two classes becoming physically different from one another, living entirely different lives, all due to what Wells sees as “a logical conclusion to the industrial system of today”.
In an interview published in 1899, H.G.Wells outlined his reasons for being so concerned with the future of mankind:
At present we are almost helpless in the grip of circumstances, and I think we ought to strive to shape our destinies. Changes that directly affect the human race are taking place every day, but they are passed over unobserved.