The Time Machine by HG Wells was the first Science Fiction book ever to be published and it is as groundbreaking now as it was when it was first published in 1898.
The Novel starts in Victorian London. The narrator is visiting a friend who is holding a diner party with the other upper class intellectual professionals of the time. The narrator’s friend is only known as the Time Traveller. We know that he lives in Richmond, he is an inventor and he is in the company of the some of the most important people in society. HG Wells builds up suspense and mystery around the Time Traveller by not revealing his name.
The people who come to the time traveller’s dinner party are all very important upper class members of society. They are the Mayor, the Medical man (Doctor), the Psychologist, the very young man, Filby and the Narrator. We do not know about the background of Filby or the Narrator but as they contribute quite often in the conversation we can tell they are intelligent and are obviously from the same social class.
On the first evening that the time traveller invites his friends around for dinner, he shows them all an instrument that he says he will send forward in time. He makes sure that all of his guests see that he is not playing a trick on them and the instrument disappears with no logical explanation to any of the visitors. Some of them are sceptical and refuse to believe it is real. The Time Traveller offers to show them the time machine he is building to prove he is not a fake and they follow him into his laboratory. When the guests leave the party they are still baffled by the trick and so the Time Traveller tells them to return next Thursday so that he can prove himself.
When the narrator returns to the Time Travellers house in Richmond the Time Traveller is not there, in the drawing room a few of the other visitors are waiting for the Time Traveller to arrive. When they finally decide to start eating dinner without him, the Time Traveller bursts into the room covered in blood and dirty. He tells them the story of how he travelled into the future.
The Time Traveller tells of how he finished his work on the Time Machine and set off on his journey on the morning of the day of the second diner party. He had travelled thousands of years into the future and found himself in a green and pleasant London inhabited by a very strange race of creatures called Eloi.
He makes friends with the Eloi and they show him the building where they communally live. He believes they are the descendants of the human race. He is impressed with the way in which they live together in such a peaceful society although he is struck by the fact the creatures are extremely childlike. The Eloi all sleep in the same area and they all eat together. There are none of the problems that exist in HG Wells’ Victorian London such as poverty or crime, “There is no sign of struggle, neither social nor economical”. He thinks that over the generations as the Eloi developed their way of life and became more and more idle, they lost the need for strength, so that is why they are so unintelligent and weak, “Strength is the outcome of need”. This is the Time Traveller’s first revelation.
HG Wells uses the Eloi’s society as a way of criticising the political theory of communism, saying that even if the society is made up of equals that do not need to labour to be members of the society, it won’t work because people will evolve into weak and stupid creatures.
However the longer the Time Traveller is in the future he realises that there is another race besides the Eloi. He notices that around the Eloi’s settlement are lots of wells and he hears the puzzling sound of machinery from underground during the night. One morning he catches a glimpse of a like creature he describes as “A queer little ape figure” but it quickly disappears down one of the wells. He begins to understand that the wells lead down to the underground settlement of the strange white creatures, which seem to be mainly nocturnal. The underground creatures are called the Morlocks.
He develops another theory in which the Morlocks are the labourers for the Eloi. He thinks about the way his own society in Victorian London has a huge gulf between the rich and the poor. He wonders how significantly the gap may have widened since then. He realised there are now two races of man, “The truth dawned on me: that man had not remained one species, but had differentiated into two distinct animals”. He contemplated the way that the Morlocks have evolved and adapted to living underground, he believes that they have lived there for many generations, they have developed the features of nocturnal animals, such as large eyes.
He ponders the working conditions of some of the railways workers in Victorian London and thinks that even in his time the workers had begun working in such unnatural conditions. He describes the work of an east end worker from Victorian London as working in such artificial conditions as practically being cut off from the natural surface of the world. This is the Time Travellers second revelation.
HG Wells has now told us of the way the society is really working, this is a now a criticism of capitalism whereas the reader was originally lead to believe Wells is criticising communism. “It seemed clear as daylight to me that the gradual widening of the present merely temporary and social difference between the Capitalist and the Labourer, was the key to the whole position”. Wells is saying that the way to avoid the splitting of the human race is to narrow the gap between the fat cats and the workers. Clearly Wells thinks that the common man in Victorian London is not getting a fair deal. He is using the novel to portray this view and, by the use of the story, explaining that if the problem is not addressed then the worker will become another species to the fat cat.
In chapter six the Time Traveller decides to go down into a well to attempt to retrieve his Time Machine, which he suspects the Morlocks have stolen. When he returns from the Morlock’s subterranean dwelling he has a third theory that he believes is correct. He flatly states that his second theory is wrong. He talks of the way in which the relationship between the Eloi and Morlocks has changed over the generations, “The Upper-world people might have been the favoured aristocracy, and the Morlocks their mechanical servants; but that had long since passed away”.
He now believes that although it appears the Eloi are ruling the future society it is a different story, the Morlocks are really controlling things. The reason that the Morlock still do work for the Eloi he says is “as a man enjoys killing an animal in sport: because ancient and necessities had impressed it on the organism”. This tells us that the Time Traveller’s third theory, suggests that the only reason that the Morlocks still live underground and work for the Eloi is because it is the way of life they are customer to. The Time Traveller goes on to explain that the original aristocracy had mistreated the workers in the passed and now the workers were returning to make amends, “Thousands of generations ago, man had thrust his brother man out of the ease and sunshine. And now that brother was coming back – changed!”
It is not long before the Time Traveller finalises his theories explaining the society. In his fourth he tells us why the Morlocks really are in charge of the society. The Eloi are “mere fatted cattle which the ant like Morlocks preserve and pray upon”. He has seen that it is the Morlocks pray upon the Eloi and that is the reason that they are feared.
HG Wells has used the relationship between Eloi and Morlocks to portray the way he feels his society is going wrong. Fortunately, in hindsight we are able to see that Victorian society did not go to the extreme of splitting the human race into two species. However, there is still a struggle in the world between workers and Capitalists. It would be very easy for HG Wells to argue that the process of dividing the human race is still in progress when there are so many people around the world living and working in conditions not dissimilar to that which transformed humans into Morlocks.