Social ImaginationAll novels are influenced by the social and cultural background of their authors, and clearly ‘The Time Machine’ is no exception. In view of this, there is a great deal which can be concluded from the respective ways in which the tale is presented.
Wells prefaced his romance by a sketch in the old PALL-MALL GAZETTE, entitled “The Man of the Year Million”, a priori study that made one thankful for one’s prematurity. After that piece of logic, however, he tried another essay in evolution, published in 1895 in book form under the title of ‘The Time Machine’ — the first of his romances. Wells was writing in 1894-95, and his fantasy reflects the concerns of his day. As a socialist sympathizer, and later a Fabian and reformer, Wells saw all around him the exploitation of the working class in the factories and mills of his time. They worked long hours, for starvation wages, living in appalling housing conditions. At the same time, the wealthy industrialists and leisured classes lived a life of pleasure and ease.
It is to expose this division in society, which forms the satirical purpose of his novel, ‘The Time Machine’. He extrapolates this situation of social injustice into the far future, the world of 802, 701 AD. The machine itself is the vaguest of mechanical assumptions, a thing of ivory, quartz, nickel and brass that quite illogically carries its rider into an existing past or future. We accept the machine as a literary device to give an air of probability to the essential thing, the experience; and forget the means in the effect. The criterion of the prophecy in this case is influenced by the theory of “natural selection.” Mr. Wells’ vision of the “Sunset of Mankind” was of men so nearly adapted to their environment that the need to struggle, with the corollary of the extermination of the unfit, had practically ceased.
Humanity had become differentiated into two races, both recessive. The Eloi, the descendants of the leisured classes, have become child-like androgynous creatures, weak and unable to fend for them selves. Their lives of leisure are enjoyed only at the cost of premature death, at the hands of the cannibalistic Morlocks. The Morlocks, the descendants of the working classes long ago driven into subterranean factories, have degenerated into troglodytes, still with some intellectual capacity, but emerging at night to prey on the hapless Eloi.
Wells’ Time Traveler is filled with despair and a sense of futility. Is it for this that he has striven so long to build his time machine? Instead of wonderful advances in human knowledge and intellect, he finds instead decay and degeneration. These feelings are reinforced towards the end of the novel. Leaving the world of the Eloi behind him, with Weena dead, he finds himself standing on the shore of a dead sea, even further in the future…
The scene is one of complete desolation and hopelessness…”I cannot convey the sense of absolute desolation that hung over the world. The red eastern sky, the northward blackness, the salt Dead Sea, the stony beach crawling with these foul, slow-stirring monsters, the uniform poisonous-looking green of the lichenous plants, the thin air that hurt one’s lungs; all contributed to an appalling effect.” The prophecy is less convincing than the wonderful sight of the declining earth some million years later. Sinking slowly into the dying fires of the worn-out sun…and the picture is made more horrible to the imaginative by the wonder of whether the summit of the evolutionary curve has not already been reached — or may be passed in the days of the Greek philosophers.
This then is the future of the human race…
decline, followed by extinction, on a dying planet. Clearly Wells’ purpose is to give an implicit warning that without major social reform, there will be little future for humanity. Conversely, he suggests that with such reform, the bleak future may be replaced with something far more desirable.Mr. Wells’ experiments with the relatively improbable had become increasingly involved with the social problems of his time.
It would be possible to trace the growth of his opinions from this evidence alone, even if we had not the valuable commentary afforded by his novels and his essays in sociology. His later works had been so defensive and, in one sense, didactic that one is apt to forget that many of the earlier books, and all the short stories, must have originated in the effervescence of creative imagination. THE TIME MACHINE, despite certain obvious faults of imagination and style, is a brilliant fantasy: and it affords a valuable picture of the young Wells looking at the world, with his normal eyes, and finding it, more particularly, incomplete.
At the age of twenty-seven or so, he had freed himself very completely from the bonds of conventional thought, and was prepared to examine, and to present life from the detached standpoint of one who views it all from a respectable distance. But who is able, nevertheless — an essential qualification — to enter life with all the passion and generosity of his own humanity.