The Time Machine
Marxist Criticism of The Time Machine
The Time Machine is a 1960 science fiction film that was produced and directed by George Pal. Based on an 1895 novel of the same title by H.G. Wells, the film portrays an inventor’s journey into the distant future and his findings. As George, the inventor, leaves his Victorian English home in the year 1900 and arrives in the year AD 802,701, he finds that civilization as he knows it has been completely lost. Soon, he discovers that humankind has evolved into two separate species: the Eloi and the Morlocks. As Matthew Taunton notes in an article titled “Class in The Time Machine,” “H. G. Wells was a committed socialist and also a scientist with an active interest in evolution” (par. 1). Therefore, the film’s presentation of the disappearance of modern civilized standards in this future society and the presentation of the power divide between the Eloi and the Morlocks is best viewed through a lens of Marxist criticism to understand the political commentary being made.
The film opens with a scene which depicts a series of clock faces drifting through nothingness and ending with a shot of Big Ben, a notable English landmark. This opening scene symbolizes both the concept of time and modern civilization, and it helps introduce viewers to the subject of the film. The film begins in medias res, and viewers are introduced to the main character, George, as he stumbles into a dinner party in his own home. His appearance and demeanor are sharply contrasted with that of his friends and colleagues who are gathered around the dinner table. While his friends and colleagues appear to be the epitome of modern civilization, George enters the film with the dirty appearance and the frazzled demeanor of a wild man. The film then utilizes a flashback to show viewers how and why George ended up with his clothes in shreds and his knowledge too great to comprehend. Soon, viewers see George alone in his workshop preparing to make his journey into the future. As he sits inside of his time machine that has an appearance which is reminiscent of a sleigh, George watches the days, nights, weeks, months, and years pass him by through a window. He observes the change of time by the changing clothing styles of a mannequin in a storefront across the street. He makes a few brief stops in 1917, 1940, and 1966. Seemingly enthralled by the ability to traverse time and the changes that he witnesses in civilization, George continues on his journey into the future until his time machine reads the year AD 802,701.
When he stops his time machine, he begins adventuring around in his foreign surroundings, and he soon discovers a group of alarmingly passive men and women by a river. These men and women are all small in stature with tanned skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes, and they are sitting idly by as a woman drowns in the river. George rushes to rescue the woman, Weena, and he is amazed at the passivity of the people he has encountered. He cannot comprehend why they would sit indifferently as a women drowned before their eyes. This is the first interaction that George has with the Eloi, one of the two species of humanity in this future civilization.
The passivity of the Eloi, in accompaniment with their small stature and fair appearance, helps viewers understand the political symbolism in the film. The foundation of the political statement becomes even more secure when George discovers the second species of this future civilization, the monstrous, ground dwelling Morlocks. Based on the premise that there is an exploration of socialism and evolution in the subtext of H. G. Wells’s novel, the two species, the “surface dwelling Eloi and their subterranean counterparts, the Morlocks,” can be viewed as representations of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (McLean 13). In the film, the Morlocks are depicted as blue-skinned monsters who feed on the submissive Eloi. This may be viewed as a symbol of the bourgeoisie benefitting from the proletariat workforce.
George also discovers that all of the accomplishments made and lessons learned by past civilizations have been lost. All of the books have turned to dust, and the Eloi have no memory of history. The Eloi are completely unconcerned with their past, present, or future, as is highlighted in their passivity towards Weena’s drowning. The Eloi seem merely to exist. They do not show any grand sense of humanity. The passivity of the Eloi may be viewed as a representation of the proletariat’s submissive position in society. The proletariats provide the bourgeoisie with the work force needed to thrive and gain power, but they never reap any of the benefits. Similarly, the Morlocks benefit from the passive nature and obliviousness of the Eloi in order to maintain their power.
The Time Machine is a film which lends itself to Marxist criticism because of its depictions of the power divide between the Morlocks and the Eloi. Based on the knowledge that H. G. Wells was interested in both socialism and evolution, the film’s setting of the distant future seems to purposely allow for commentary on both subjects. Patrick Parrinder, author of Shadows of the Future: H. G. Wells, Science Fiction, and Prophecy, notes that “the two scales, those of historical time measured by the rise and fall of cultures and civilizations, and of biological time measured by the evolution of devolution of the species, are superimposed upon another” (42). It is because of this futuristic setting that the film is able to depict the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in such a unique yet definitive manner.
Works CitedMcLean, Steven. The Early Fiction of HG Wells: Fantasies of Science. Springer, 2009. Parrinder, Patrick. Shadows of the Future: H.G. Wells, Science Fiction, and Prophecy. Syracuse University Press, 1995.
The Time Machine and the Protocols of Science Fiction
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells features horrific creatures from beneath the earth that enslave helpless humans, yet it is rarely if ever described as a horror novel. The tale features an adventurous leading character who manages to find a little romance as he hurtles back and forth through time, but is rarely found sitting on the shelf next to other adventure novels of its era like Around the World in 80 Days or King Solomon’s Mines. The Time Machine could arguably fit with the conventions of genre logic that would qualify it as horror or adventure, but instead it is only ever referenced within the realm of science fiction and this universal agreement is due it precisely alignment of themes and motifs which James Gunn outlined his definition of the genre of science fiction: the existence of a fourth dimension, the evolution of mankind and the prominence of curiosity as an integral component of the human imagination.
The foundational component in Gunn’s definition of science fiction—the influence of which stretches across the breadth of his more expansive definition—is that it is a genre centered upon the idea of change and the possibility for the events of a character timeline to altered through apprehension of fourth dimension. The significance of the ability to manipulate time for the purpose of altering the past to change the future is so vital that Wells decided to confirm its implication in the very title of his book. From that title page through to the very last page, the time machine becomes an actual character; arguably an even more fascinating character than the Time Traveler himself. That sense of character is further deepened and made manifestly an aspect of Gunn’s denotative description of science fiction by virtue of the genuinely dimensional exploitation of time in which it is used. The titular technology of the novel is not merely used to hurtle the main character back or forward a few decades, but rather across entire epochs.
Through the use of his machine, the Traveler is afforded perhaps the rarest opportunity in the universe: to actually witness firsthand the effects of evolution on his own species. In this way, The Time Machine directly confronts another key element of Gunn’s definition of science fiction, positing the notion that the “universe is knowable (though it may never be known) and that people are adaptable” (Gunn, 2002).
One might well question whether The Time Machine presents a pleasant demonstration of Gunn’s assertion that science fiction is fundamentally Darwinian, but it is impossible to deny that it is truly is one of the most authentically Darwinian science fiction novels ever written. The book is not a warm and fuzzy vision of Darwinian progress toward perfecting the human species. Absent from the nightmarish future the book presents is any hint of the suggestion that “Darwin’s theory of evolution described human beings as being in a constant struggle for survival, but inventions such as electricity, the telephone, and subways promised to make the struggle easier and people’s lives more manageable” (Galens, 2003). What the future holds in store for humanity is the most overlooked aspect of the entire misapprehended concept of survival of the fittest. The Morlocks may have evolved to become as fit to survive as the Eloi are unfit, but between the two of them, neither seem to possess any capacity for making the evolutionary struggle easier or their lives more manageable. Implicit in the dimensional view of the future spanning epochal time periods that the Traveler witnesses is the reality that there must be something lacking in the genetic strain of humanity in order for evolution to take it to this future condition of living.
While one can fairly argue that some literary genres may be more imaginative than others, the aspect of human imagination that seems more at home in science fiction than any other genre is curiosity and in that respect The Time Machine fulfills its definition as an authentic example of science fiction. The Traveler becomes a prototype for the overly curious scientist of every science fiction novel to come whose adventures for good or evil are the result of wanting to know more about the unknown. Those future exercises in science fiction would also turn into a stereotype an essential figure in the construction of the significant of curiosity in science fiction: the doubters and skeptics who gather around and stand in stark contrast to visionary man of science. It is worth keeping in mind that science fiction is a literary genre that is by definition of paradoxical contradiction in terms. Real science is never a fiction and fiction is not a science. As Gunn postulates, “humanity’s romantic notions about how life ought to be have no influence on the inexorable facts (the cold equations) of the universe” (2002). Without the doubters and the skeptics there to remind scientists that such things as time travel is patently impossible, the truly visionary curiosity that lies at the center of all great science fiction is lost and with it goes much of the passion that is also a driving force.
Elements of a variety of literary genres can be located within the pages of The Time Machine that contribute to one’s enjoyment of the novel, but at heart it is undeniably a defining moment in the evolution of science fiction. While the story would certainly suffer with the loss of any its horror or adventure, romantic or fantasy components of the novel, none of its power would be diminished in the absence. That is because the real power of The Time Machine as literature is realized from a coherent and unified structure built upon the foundations outlined by Gunn that presents science fiction as a genre preoccupied with a curiosity about the dimensional awareness of the evolutionary struggle of mankind
“The Time Machine.” Novels for Students. Ed. David A. Galens. Vol. 17. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 247-258. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.
Gunn, James. Road to Science Fiction From Gilgamesh to Wells. Scarecrow, 2002.
Wells, H. G. The Time Machine. S.l.: Floating, 2008.
The Rise or Fall of Humanity: Comparing ‘The Time Machine’ in Fiction and Film
In The Time Machine, H. G. Wells takes on the impossible task of imagining the future of our world. The story features the Time Traveler (George), the main character of the story, and his many adventures in the year 802,701 A.D. Later in 1960 Wells’ crazy prophecy was transformed into a film. However, when the time came to adapt the book into a movie many changes had to be made to the plot of the story so that the audience could understand the chain of events that take place. Some of the plot discrepancies took place in Weena’s river scene, the talking rings scene, Weena’s death, and the Eloi rescue mission from the Morlocks. Each change was made with clear intent, and the most crucial of these differences depart from Wells’s pessimistic tone while preserving the key themes of the original text.
First, we see differences in the plot between Weena’s near drowning experience at the river, featured in the book and the movie. At this time in the movie, George (the time traveler) had just arrived in the future and he came across the Eloi at the river. This was the first time in the movie that George had ever seen the Eloi whereas in the book George had met some of the Eloi at the sphinx statue when he first arrived. Also in the movie, George saves Weena on his first day in the future, while in the book the time traveler rescues Weena on his third day. In the book the time traveler observes, “Well, on the third day of my visit…to rescue the weakly crying little thing which was drowning… I caught the poor mite and drew her safe to land… found that her name was Weena” (Wells 43). This shows that the director chose to change the order of the events in the movie. He chose to change this because on the first few days of George’s visit to the future, he does a lot of thinking and inquiring to himself about the strange world that the Eloi live in and so to make the movie more interesting the director chose to skip some of the dialog that took place in the book. This was a good decision on the director’s part because it immediately drew the audience in and set up Weena as George’s love interest which came into play later in the film.
Next, another plot discrepancy between the book and the movie is the talking rings scene. In the book George cannot understand the language of the Eloi so as a result he has to figure out how the Eloi’s society is constructed, by himself. In the book George asserts, “I determined to make a resolute attempt to learn the speech of these new men of mine” (Wells 27). However, in the film the Eloi speak English so George is free to ask them questions about their lives and social structure. Still, the Eloi are uneducated so they don’t understand why they don’t have to work and why there are no older people. As a result, the director added the talking ring scene, in which George and Weena visit what appears to be a museum and listen to rings that talk when you spin them. The rings act as a historian. Weena doesn’t understand this, but George does. The rings make it so George doesn’t have to figure out the Eloi’s society on his own, because the rings give him all the answers. The rings verify, “I am the last who remembers how each of us, man and woman made his own decision. Some chose to take refuge in the great caverns, and find a new way of life far below the earth’s surface. The rest of us decided to take our chances in the sunlight” (The Time Machine). This allows George to learn of the relationship between the Eloi and the Morlocks and how the future world was divided. The director added this scene because it effectively cut a significant amount of time out of the plot of the book where George was trying to figure this out, and allowed the audience to understand the relationship between the Eloi and the Morlocks clearly, but in a short amount of time.
Weena’s death was another difference that was made clear when comparing the book, to the movie. In the book, Weena and George are wandering through the forest in the dark when Morlocks come across them. George escapes the Morlocks, but Weena dies in the process. The Time Traveler declares, “I felt the intensest wretchedness for the horrible death of little Weena” (Wells 78). This shows how much George cared for Weena, because she was his only friend in the future. It also gives George an air of loneliness which is not seen in the movie. This is largely because the director of the film chose to have Weena live in the movie. This drastically changed George’s motive and with it, the plot of the movie. Had Weena not lived, George would not have been so motivated to return to the future and rebuild the Eloi’s society, as he is in the movie. Filby (one of George’s friends) implores, “I think I understand. You see the imprint? This is where the time machine originally stood. The Morlocks moved it. They dragged it across the lawn… right into the sphinx. Right there. Weena was standing here when he last saw her” (The Time Machine). This proves that part of the reason George wished to return was because of Weena, whereas in the book it appears that George wishes to return because he was further curious about what the future held. Again the director chose wisely when he had Weena remain alive because as a result of this the movie’s tone turns into one of change, reviving humanity and rebuilding the future society.
Finally, we are able to see further discrepancies of the book and movie through the Eloi rescue mission from the Morlocks which is carried out in the movie version of The Time Machine. In the movie an alarm sounds and all the Eloi converge to the sphinx where some are taken inside to become food for the Morlocks. Weena is one of the Eloi taken, so George goes in after her where he fights the Morlocks and in the end, defeats them while restoring the Eloi to the surface. None of this took place in the book. In H. G. Wells’ rendition the Time Traveler endorses, “As I approached the pedestal of the sphinx I found the bronze valves were open… I stepped through the bronze frame and up to the Time Machine” (Wells 80-81). This tells us that the Time Traveler simply planned on leaving the future. He planned to leave the Eloi to fend for themselves and to let the Morlocks continue on with their cannibalism. He believed that humanity was past saving. This is very different from the movie because in the movie, George is looking to save the Eloi and exterminate the Morlocks, then to help the Eloi start fresh afterwards. Filby corroborates, “…so he could appear outside the sphinx again… and help the Eloi build a new world” (The Time Machine). The director chose to change the dismal and hopeless mood of H. G. Wells’ book into a positive, optimistic, better-times-in-the-future mood. He succeeded in doing this and with it he created a magnificent film that encourages viewers not to give up on humanity.
It’s almost impossible to recreate a book into a movie and not have some alterations. In the case of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, many changes were made to the plot which affected the order of the events and overall mood of the film. However, many times changes are made to help the audience easily understand the plot and to do so in a short amount of time. Often, these changes take away from the original story of the book leaving those viewers who read the book disappointed. In the case of The Time Machine, it may differ enormously from its original, but in the end these changes were not made in error.
The significance of scientific investigation within the works of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Scientific investigation as a motif in Victorian literature served as both a source of inquisitiveness and terror in its youth as an ideological school of thought. Both Mary Shelley and H. G. Wells take time to scientifically dissect these facets of horror and experimentation through literature, by questioning the validity of science and its subsequent effect upon society in their contemporary environment and also those in the ages to come. They each provoke the questions of whether science is something to be feared or admired – or even perhaps both – and ultimately ask the question: how far can we really go until science has gone too far?
The subject of logic in science and the supposed incontrovertibility of scientific investigation very much presents itself in both Shelley and Wells’ works and serves as a warning of the limits of human knowledge and the differentiation between theory and practical action. Of course, the time traveller is able to practically construct and operate his time machine, however, at no point is the reader presented with any evidence that a significant amount of planning or predetermination went into the journey to the future at all. The reader is not shown a concisely and meticulously conducted experiment, but more a haphazard adventure similar to that of Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels as a fantastical tale of a man from our human society journeying to alien lands of extraordinary creatures. Should we then, if paralleling these two works, take the time traveller seriously in any of his claims to scientific brilliance? Wells, in his electing to overtly fictionalize the futuristic universe the time traveller finds himself in perhaps intends to poke and prod at science and the scientific methodology as being too fantastical and convoluted to be considered concrete fact. Wells himself called the Victorian era an age of confusion (Claeys, 107) and so it may instead be that his adoption of a highly fantastical world with a rather slapdash protagonist serves to fundamentally comment on the generation’s naivety in the realms of scientific discovery, given that even the term scientist had only been coined in 1833, which is only sixty years prior to the novella. We can see elements of the fantastical being used to possibly warn readers off of the fanciful darkness of elements of the scientific practice again in Shelley’s novel Frankenstein with the mythological referencing of the tale of Prometheus. Hustis claims that ‘Shelley’s decision to entitle her novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus suggests a far more complex literary operation than simple appropriation or modified replication of an ancient Greek myth’ (Hustis, 845) thus recognizing a direct parallel to mythology and what some may call horrific fantasy. It may be read that Shelley and Wells both adopt this fantastical genre for the same reason – to ward their readerships away from science completely and dismissing it as fantasy – or to the more thoughtful reader, to serve as a reminder of the true capabilities of man and our ability to perhaps create the fantastical with scientific investigation.
Now, this capability to create the fantastical ostensibly holds positive connotations in its primary form, however, in Wells’ novel there is an allusion that the level of intellectual creativity surrounding scientific investigation was up for questioning in the early years of this new methodology. The time traveller in the novella is described as being ‘one of those men who are too clever to be believed’ (Wells, 12) and when read in context of Victorian society, it seems that the same can be said for modern science. Manlove discusses the criticism of industrialization and scientific advancement in the Victorian era, citing that critics appeal to the idea of the machine as a brutaliser of the human sensibility, the agent of a repressive society that,while it goes forward materially, is the enemy of the individual human spirit’ (Manlove, 215). To these critics, scientific investigation was to be feared, perhaps because it explains the before unexplainable and reaches into capabilities that humanity didn’t even know it had.
This is where Shelley’s presentation of science in the gothic and horror genre comes into play as the commentator of the gothic and horror of anthropological scientific investigation in its extremity and the fabrication of life through science. Taylor discusses the notion that the laboratory settings of much of the gothic fiction of the Victorian era mirrors the preoccupation of the period’s with horror and the unknown facets of this new wave of science (Taylor, 17). Shelley seems to advocate the idea that science and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge are intrinsically linked as Victor Frankenstein himself claims ‘my father was not scientific and I was left to struggle with a child’s blindness, added to a student’s thirst for knowledge’ (Shelley, 28). Noting the paternal blame placed by Frankenstein may reveal fundamental motive behind the sudden rush of scientific investigation in the Victorian period if we are to consider the fathers and ancestor societies to be scientifically ignorant in comparison to the illuminations of modern science. Shelley may perhaps be alluding to the dangers of the arrogance and castigating ideology of new wave individuals of any given subject that they are more intellectual and innovative than any others that have come before them.
Robert Philmus’ presupposition that ‘Wells designs the fiction to be precisely what its title says it is – a time machine’ and that the novella itself acts as a vessel for transporting its contemporary and also modern day readers outside the realms of their environmental thought. This is followed with the hypothesis that there are concrete rules that humanity ‘accept unthinkingly’ and remain in our unconscious (Philmus, 430), thus while the mode of scientific investigation undertaken in the plot of Wells’ novella may be more than questionable in method, this is besides the fundamentally point of what is being communicated to the readership. We as modern readers, along with our Victorian counterparts in Wells’ own time are asked to look forward and to examine both the pragmatics and morality of our present societal structures. If Wells is to be read as the voice of the time traveller, there are instances of direct reflection on his part on the linear aspect of society’s ritualistic facets. The time traveller quips that the elois’ adoption of a kind of gender fluidity and lack of gender specialization in their society is something that ‘we see some beginnings of this even in our own time, and in this future age it was complete’ (Wells, 30). This statement of the time traveller further cements Philmus’ allusion to Wells’ manipulation of the motif of scientific investigation, in that it is perhaps necessary to consider the long term effect of the structures in place for future generations and thus he holds it in good standing. It is important to note, however, that the time traveller completely disregards this finding in immediately claiming that ‘later I was to appreciate how far it fell short of the reality’, which in turn does shift concentration onto scientific investigation as being extremely susceptible to the subjectivity of human error. This opens up a stark juxtaposition in ideology on the part of Wells and thus creates a qualm over the reliability and promise of scientific investigation as an idea is put forward and promptly dismissed even within the spaces of a few lines in the pages of the novella.
While Shelley and Wells both point out and dissect the dangers and human accountability in scientific investigation, overall the argument can be summarized through appealing to Wells’ own novella and his own ideas surrounding the reliability of science and its methodology. Wells presents us with the time traveller in darkness with the Morlocks and as he scrabbles around to light a match by which to see he comments that ‘the view I had of it [his surroundings] was as much as one could see in the burning of a match’ (Wells, 54). This concentration upon the small light given off by the match amongst the abyss of darkness perhaps alludes to the idea that no matter how much one finds out through investigation, there will always be more to discover in the darkness. Now, whether Wells means to communicate this as a positive or negative message is inconceivable, however both eventualities result in an illuminating notion about the construct of the human psyche; whilst always wanting to know more, we are also afraid of what this more is made up of and what it will mean for us.
Claeys, Gregory. “The Origins of Dystopia: Wells, Huxley and Orwell”. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2010. pp. 107-132. Cambridge Companions Online. Web.
Hustis, Harriet. “Responsible Creativity and the ‘Modernity’ of Mary Shelley’s Prometheus”. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. Vol. 43. No. 4. Rice University. 2003. 845-858. Web. JSTOR.
Manlove, Colin. “Charles Kingsley, H.G. Wells, and the Machine in Victorian Fiction”. Nineteenth Century Literature, Vol. 48, No. 2. University of California Press, 1993, pp. 212-239. JSTOR. Web.
Philmus, Robert. “H.G. Wells’s Revisi(tati)ons of The Time Machine”. English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920. 41.4 (1998): 427-452. Project Muse. Web.
Shelley, Mary. with J. Paul Hunter. Frankenstein (1818). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, inc. 2012. Print.
Taylor, Jenny Bourne. ‘Psychology at the Fin de Siècle’. The Cambridge Companion to the Fin de Siècle. Ed. Gail Marshall. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 13-30.
Wells, H.G. with Patrick Parrinder, Marina Warner, Steven McLean. The Time Machine (1895). London: The Penguin Group. 2005. Print.
The Eloi Paradise Versus the Morlock Underworld: Imagery and Symbolism in The Time Machine
In The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, the Time Traveler travels from the late 19th century to the future–802,701–to find both heavenly and hellish, both beautiful and sickening environments. The earth at that time is inhabited by the Eloi, above-ground, loving, dimwitted humanoids, and ridden with Morlocks, underground, flesh-eating nocturnals who show themselves only in the dark to feed. Wells uses religious symbolism through description and color, and skillful word choice to inflict positive emotions when describing the Eloi, and negative emotions when describing the Morlocks.
As the narration indicates, “The whole earth had become a garden” (38) by the year 802,701. The Time Traveler saw “beautiful bushes and flowers, a long-neglected yet weedless garden” (32) across the landscape of the earth. If a garden were to be “long-neglected,” it would inevitably grow weeds, unless divine intervention were to take place, as it did in the Garden of Eden. The Time Traveler refers to the planet as a garden on several occasions, relating it to the Biblical garden, giving readers a sense of positivity. When he met the Eloi, he concluded they were “on the intellectual level of [a] five-year-old [child]” (31). “A flow of disappointment” came over him, the way it did with God when Adam and Eve disobeyed him, eating the forbidden fruit, showing their lack of intellect. Any person possessing an enormous power like the ability to manipulate time the way the Time Traveler did can be considered god-like. Connections are therefore drawn between his disappointment and God’s, between the Eloi and Adam and Eve. After meeting the slow-minded Eloi, he follows them to a “great hall” (32), adorned with “richly carved” (32) “big doorway[s]” (32), stained-glass windows, “polished stone” (33) tables, topped with “heaps of fruit” (33), all of which convey positivity. Their hall is described similar to a church, perhaps with social commentary, as the Time Traveler makes a point to say there is an “absence of ceremony” (33). Does Wells believe religion will not last until 802,701? Nevertheless, he goes as far as to call the period a “social paradise” (40); calling anything a paradise is a strong belief in perfection. When the Time Traveler ventures into the “Under-world” (68), however, strong hellish description gives readers a sense of how morbid the Morlocks’ world truly is.
His “descent” (67) into the underworld was made through a well, “metallic bars projecting from the sides… being adapted to the needs of a creature much smaller and lighter than [himself] (67). The well shows not only danger in the bars jutting from the sides–if a person were to fall, they could be impaled–but danger in using them as well–they barely held the Time Traveler, bending under his weight. He was “almost swung… off into the blackness beneath” (67), referencing death and hell, clear negativity. Upon entering the Morlocks’ underground tunnel-system, he saw “grotesque black shadows” (69), proving his disdain, his uneasiness. The Time Traveler “stood in the dark, a hand touched [his], lank fingers came over [his] face” (70). This description is horrifyingly demonic; unknown hands reaching, almost petting would likely result in fear. Their environment was “oppressive” (69), “very hot and close” (OED). Hell is believed oppressive, eternally punishing the damned, filled with sadness, darkness. A hot environment full of oppression, darkness, hands reaching, petting, can be paralleled to hell with ease, and therefore pure negativity, hatred, disgust. Wells not only does this with his description of the underworld, but his color pallette too.
The “metallic bars” jutting from the inside of the well offer copious symbolism. While the bars are dangerous in themselves, their color–in this case material–is metallic–metal. Metal is hard, harsh, unsettling. Being surrounded by metal bars implies a sense of being trapped, imprisoned. The “blackness beneath” (67) symbolizes mystery, death, as do the “grotesque black shadows” (69) in the tunnel-system. While the Morlocks are white, they are not symbols of purity, as their description proves. The word “spectral” (69) shows their ghostly appearance, as opposed to innocence; it tells readers to be afraid of them. They are surrounded by darkness, while the Eloi are surrounded by brightness.
The Eloi are “brightly clad people,” living among “white flowers,” wearing “bright, soft-colored robes,” possessing “shining white limbs,” walking upon “white metal” floors (32). “Bright” is not a color, but it describes color; when that color is “soft” and “bright,” one can infer the color is white. The copious whiteness of their environment shows their innocence, their happiness. In the second of two interruptions of the entire narrative, the Time Traveler shows his friends two of the white flowers that Weena placed in his pocket. Interruptions of his narrative are truly important, as they are a rarity in the book; they show readers when attention is most needed. This places more emphasis on the flowers he shows, and their whiteness is therefore more important. The color of these flowers are not only more important than the others because of the interruption, but also because Weena gave them to him. The flowers themselves are significant because “the earth had become a garden” (38); it shows that these are not just a gift from Weena, but a memento of 802,701. Weena’s and other Eloi’s softness is shown not only in their actions; Wells’ language and word choice offer more positive emotions toward them as well.
The Eloi are a soft group of creatures which Wells proves with his word choice. The mere name “Eloi” flows; it does not contain hard syllables. When readers are first introduced to them, words like “prettiness,” “soft cooing notes,” “smiling,” and “faintest” (30) pepper the page, causing readers to subconsciously feel the Eloi’s softness, their innocence. Their “whole earth [is] a garden” (38). There are, however, deeper interpretations of the Eloi’s softness; one being their name. To eloin means “to remove to a distance” (OED). The Eloi are removed from their ancestors, whose knowledge is far beyond ours; they are the product of human laziness, lack of care; they are unable to read or write, unable to hold attention for more than seconds. Still, however, there is more to this. The Eloi are far removed from the Morlocks, so much so that they sleep together in large groups, inside their halls to stay away from the frightening ape-like creatures. Their name is a word to describe one of their main features, their lack of connection to the world and the past. Similar thought went into the words “Eloi” and “Morlock,” with the latter possessing as much meaning as the former.
While “Eloi” is soft, flowing, “Morlock” is rough, consisting of harder syllables–fitting for a group of underworld, flesh-eating apes. It shares a prefix with “morbid,” and its suffix, “lock,” possess meaning alone. If a door is locked, what’s behind it is forbidden, hidden from the open world; if more locks are placed upon that door, it becomes harder to open, harder to find what it hides. “Warlock,” a homophone of Morlock, is “a wicked person… a damned soul in hell” (OED), proving evil, especially according to early Christians. The parallels drawn between hell and the Morlocks’ underworld reinforce this comparison. On page 69, words like “dimness,” “grotesque black shadow,” “spectral,” “oppressive,” “blood,” and “obscene” are used strategically, again, giving readers subconscious feelings, this time, however, of fear and disgust.
H.G. Wells associates the Eloi with whiteness, happiness, innocence, and the Morlocks with darkness, disgust, evil; Wells inflicts these ideas upon readers both on surface level and deeper through religious symbolism within description and color, and exquisitely thought-out word choice to further readers’ understanding of the Eloi and Morlocks. The eternal conflict of good and evil is underscored throughout the story, masterfully contrasted by Wells.
The Disadvantages of Capitalism
In H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, the unnamed narrator, commonly referred to as the Time Traveler, creates a device that is capable of time travel, and proceeds to meet two humanoid species of the far distant future. The Time Traveler’s adventure is commonly accepted by readers as that of a Victorian era man who experiences thousands of millennia through the boundless exploration of time. This initial interpretation fails to incorporate Wells’ underlying themes of evolution of humanity, class division, and the effects of capitalism to the Time Traveler’s current culture. If this key aspect of the Time Traveler’s account goes unnoticed, readers will be ill-equipped to fully comprehend Wells’ ultimate analogy, the struggle between the capitalist and laborer. The relationship between the Eloi and Morlocks, the two divergent species of the author’s future, is a representation of the characteristics and future projections of the 19th century Victorian era, presented through an early rendition of science-fiction. In this essay, I will analyze the analogy of the Eloi and Morlocks, displaying Wells’ latent argument about what will happen to mankind if capitalism persists to take advantage of workers for the benefit and welfare of the privileged.
As the Time Traveler observes the relationship between the Eloi and Morlocks, and studies the two species’ behavior and physical traits, he develops several theories as to why humankind has veered off into a completely different breed from one another. He discovers that humanity has evolved into two different species because of the “gradual widening of the present merely temporary and social difference between the Capitalist and the Laborer” (40). The Time Traveler is not merely claiming that humanity had evolved and changed from what he knows it as, but it changed because of the broadening social inequalities between the upper and lower classes during the Victorian era. This theme is crucial to comprehend the purpose of the book, which revolves around this general idea of class suppression and societal clashing. To understand this representative class struggle between the Eloi and Morlocks, one must understand the beginnings of their respective races. The Eloi are descendants ultimately of the elite because they inhabit and control “considerable portions of the surface of the land” (40). The Morlocks, or the lower class, “lost its birthright in the sky” (40) and had to take residence underground, while maintaining production of commodities. Thus, according to the Time Traveler’s social Darwinist perspective, humanity devolved into separate branches of contrasting species, which are also a physical embodiment of upper class-lower class differences, because of their gradual change in location, but fundamentally because of their class contrasts. The fact that the Eloi don’t produce and work for their own goods furthers the idea that they are elitist and comparable to the upper class of 1890s England. The Eloi displayed “no machinery, or no appliances of any kind, yet they were clothed in pleasant fabrics” (34). The only logical reason for where the Eloi acquire their goods from would be the Morlocks, with their use of “big industrial machines” (44). Therefore, the Morlocks are socially dominated by the elitist Eloi.
Most critics agree that the Morlocks are socially subordinate to the Eloi because they have their goods constructed by the Morlocks. The bourgeoisie, or those with a higher social status, control the surface areas of the land, which maintains their power. This interpretation ignores the possibility that the Morlocks could, in fact, be the dominant species. “The Morlocks at any rate were carnivorous” (44), and given that “horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, had followed the Ichthyosaurus into extinction” (23), the only other food source based from flesh would be the Eloi. This inference signifies that the Morlocks rely on the Eloi for food. The Eloi might have once been the descendants of the selected gentry, but have now become the means of sustenance. If this understanding of the relationship between the two humanoid species is continually overlooked, the audience would skirt Wells’ message of the dangerous effects of capitalism and how it would negatively shape human progression. Proponents of this argument would likely claim that the Morlocks are, indeed, above the Eloi because they support them, only for a source of food.
Up to this point, I have established the social relationship between the Morlocks and Eloi, and noted this relationship’s similarities to a class struggle. To continue, I will relate this class struggle to Victorian England’s society and Wells’ predictions for the future. Wells’ novel suggests that it is only a matter of time before the lower working class becomes differentiated, stating that “Even now, does not an East-end worker live in such artificial conditions as practically to be cut off from the natural surface of earth?” (40). This quote invokes the 1890s England familiar to the Time Traveler, referencing towards the East-End, known to consist of slums and to house London’s poorest. This theory, that society in the future is only a continuation of the Time Traveler’s culture, is furthered by the Time Traveler in his description of the degradation of the Eloi’s familial unit, articulating that “we see some beginnings of this even in our own time, and in this future age it was complete” (25). This is not the only type of comparison that the novel draws between the societies of the 1890s and of the future era. The Time Traveler acknowledges how the past has affected the future in that “Ages ago, thousands of generations ago, man had thrust his brother man out of the ease and the sunshine. And now that brother was coming back – changed.” (47). The main character’s claim highlights the similarities of the two respective time periods, making not just connections of two societies, but of three separate species. Again, Wells is creating connections between the two time periods in order to present his ideology, through a work of fiction. The Time Traveler does not leave his comparisons without interpretation; he argues that “the Upper-world man had drifted towards his feeble prettiness, and the Under-world to mere mechanical industry” (62). This scenario exhibits Wells’ ultimate message; the negative characteristics of capitalism have completely destroyed society as he knew it. Humanity lost what made it human, and in turn, devolved into devoid creatures of little intellect or culture.
The identification of a class struggle between the Morlocks and Eloi, and the comparisons that the Time Traveler draws between his society and of the future’s highlights the idea that capitalism, the current societal norm of Victorian England, will lead to the decline of humanity on such a scale that creates two inferior species to the original. How would H. G. Wells react to modern society, with its increasing inequality of wealth? If he acted accordingly to his ideologies presented in The Time Traveler, he would most likely continue his same reasoning and discussion. The issues that H.G. Wells discussed roughly 100 years ago are still pertinent today. The Time Machine is focused on social disparity and impartiality, problems that are still troubling society. Although it is improbable that this disparity will result in two divergent species, Wells’ story highlights the problem of class differences in attempt to mend the growing rift between the upper and lower classes in order to prevent this figurative catastrophe.
The Time Traveller: A Singular “Mad Scientist”
Mad Scientists in Literary History
The figure of the ‘mad scientist’ is present in many literary works, and its influence as an irresponsible character with an uncontrollable intelligence can be found in many others. But before explaining its origin, it seems convenient to give a proper definition of the term. For that, it may be used the online Oxford dictionary, which defines the ‘mad scientist’ as “a scientist who is mad or eccentric, especially so as to be dangerous or evil: a stock figure of melodramatic horror stories”. We may say then, that the two main characteristics of this kind of character are the obsessive behavior and the use of very dangerous methods. The origin of the ‘mad scientist’ can be located in the medieval alchemists. However, as Stiles explains, “the now-familiar trope of the mad scientist in fact traces its roots to the clinical association between genius and insanity that developed in the mid-nineteenth century” (319). That period, the Victorian era, is actually the key to understand the nature of this character. The circumstances, such as the rise of the industrialization or the resurgence of the Gothic fiction, made the authors write about the dangerous consequences of modern science’s experiments and the people behind them. And by this way, “such figures as the mad scientist were created not for entertainment reasons … but in a nineteenth-century literary response to the emergence of modern chemistry” (Schummer 100). As mentioned before, the idea of genius is essential to understand the creation of the ‘mad scientist.
Whereas the Romanticism idealized the poetic version of genius and the Enlightenment notion of it was a being directly inspired by God, Victorians focused on scientific prodigies. This kind of genius has “suppressed all human affections in the cause of science” (Schummer 113). At that time, any writer or expert seemed to failed in the attempt of describing ‘genius’, at least in a psychological manner, and it was often link with insanity. Victorians embraced the idea of the average man as the ‘ultimate man’ and “superiority and inferiority to the average are to be classed together as deviations from the normal” (Nisbet 325). Or as Stiles better explains, “all aberrations from the norm could be seen as pathological, including extreme intelligence” (322). She also adds that genius was at some point described “itself as a kind of hereditary, degenerate brain condition symptomatic of nerve disorder” (320). Of course, Victorians were not the first to correlate genius and mental illness. “This association began with classical authors, notably Plato, Seneca, and Aristotle” (Stiles 321). Along history, genius has been linked with other pathologies like monomania or hysteria, and although the Victorian era made easy an explanation for the association of genius and insanity due to its ideology, the fear of what deviates from the social conventions may be the principle reason.
The Time Traveller
The Time Machine (1895) is H. G. Wells’ first novel and also, is considered to be the first novel to deal with the time travelling issue. It tells the story of an inventor and his particular journey through time. Although a peculiar one, the Time Traveller can be categorized as a ‘mad scientist. It would be convenient to mention first the key to understand this character, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), as it “provides the formulation of the archetypal mad scientist as a dangerous figure who tended toward mental instability and social irresponsibility” (Toumey 416). Victor Frankenstein is the influence for all the ‘mad scientist’ that appeared in literature after Mary Shelley’s novel. In fact, Chew states that “Doctor Moreau of H. G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau is an example of a mad scientist descended from the Frankenstein legacy. As attempts to create human-like creatures from animals, Doctor Moreau’s vivisection experiments similarly mirror Frankenstein’s” (3). But, whereas Doctor Moreau is a more prototypical ‘mad scientist’, following the characteristics of Frankenstein, the Time Traveller differs in some aspects. Frankenstein may not be the only inspiration for Wells. “Wells’ malevolent mad scientists … owe an intellectual debt not only to Huxley, but also to discussions of genius and insanity in late-Victorian issues of Mind” (Stiles 319). Being Aldous Huxley and his work another influence in Wells’ novels.
The first evidence of the similarities can be found in the first pages of The Time Machine, when the narrator exposes the excitement of the Time Traveller when he explains about time, the “Fourth Dimension” (4), as he talks about his theories “with a slight accession of cheerfulness” (4). This enthusiasm seems to be common to all ‘mad scientists’ because they are focus only in his own scientific work. And later, the narrator continued to give a description of such interesting character that fits in the archetypical mold of a ‘mad scientist’. “The fact is, the Time Traveller was one of those men who are too clever to be believed: you never felt that you saw all round him; you always suspected some subtle reserve, some ingenuity in ambush, behind his lucid frankness” (12). We can clearly find here that caution for people with a superior intelligence, that is exemplary of that period. “Remarkable Behavior of an Eminent Scientist” (14) said the Editor as thinking of a headline when the Traveller delayed the story to his guests. And by doing that, delaying the story, we have a wise narrative move and in addition, it helps to build the aura of mystery of the principle character. “He said not a word” (13), in spite of the men’s inquiries, and when he eventually says something is to extend the expectation: “I’m going to wash and dress, and then I’ll come down and explain things” (14). The most remarkable difference that makes the Time Traveller unique would be that in this story the ‘mad scientist’ is the hero and the man of action. “I mean to have a journey on my own account” (8) he says, and if there were any doubt of his intentions he adds, “I was never more serious in my life” (10). And as we find later during his visit to year 802.701, he saves Weena from drowning and tries to protect her again from the attack of the Morlocks. But far more interesting is the following quote in which he admits the nature of his journey: “… so with a kind of madness growing upon me, I flung myself into futurity” (19). In contrast to Frankenstein and Doctor Moreau, he is not considered the villain at some point, and he is the one to participate in his own experiment, even with the detriment that he may not be believed. He is aware of that, as he expresses: “I cannot expect you to believe it” (83); or even: “I hardly believe myself” (84). It is different also the construction of the psychology of the character.
In both Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus and The Island of Doctor Moreau, it is present a psychological approach of the duality of the mind as the creator identifies with the monster. They represent the good and the evil sides of men. In The Time Machine, we can find this externalized in the both races of the future, and verbalized by the own Time Traveller when he says: “my mind was already in revolution” (62). “After feeling initial disgust for the Morlocks (machinists and meat-eaters like himself) and condescension toward the Eloi (whose enervated spontaneity still highlights his own emotional sterility), the Traveller identifies with both in order to reintegrate these now “distinct animals” (Hennelly 161). They are not his creation but the future representation of his human nature and, “as indicated before, the Time Traveller must admit the Morlock side of himself and integrate this with his more deeply suppressed Eloi side” (Hennelly 161). At the end of the novel, the Time Traveller doesn’t trust in his own experience and he even says the key word for this analysis and what seems the only rational explanation. “Did I ever make a Time Machine, or a model of a Time Machine? Or is it all only a dream? They say life is a dream, a precious poor dream at times—but I can’t stand another that won’t fit. It’s madness” (84). But by this time, the reader’s sympathy has already been awakened as his human quality has been shown trough the emotions, the fear and the bravery despite being presented at first as a very intelligent man with lots of abstract theories.
These ideas and stereotypes of the ‘mad scientist’ are still present in fiction. And we even find nowadays the representation of a genius, especially in the case of a scientific genius, as a mad person. We owe this relation to the Victorian era, as mentioned before, and it was a response to the rise of scientific experiments and theories to show how dangerous is the combination of scientific knowledge and ambitious plans. In The Time Machine, Wells seems to defend a different ‘mad scientist’. Same extraordinary intelligence, same mad behavior and same ambitious plan, but in this case the author gives the character the humanity of a hero who is aware of the consequences of his experiment and questions himself whether it was real or a product of his madness. Also, he is very physical and an adventurer, what makes him a very unique ‘mad scientist’.
Chew, Hansel. The Progeny of Frankenstein: The Mad Scientist and His Creature. MA thesis, Oxford University, 2014.
Hennelly, Mark M., Jr. “The Time Machine: A Romance of ‘The Human Heart’.” Extrapolation, vol. 20, no. 2, 1979, pp. 154-67.
Nisbet, John Ferguson. The insanity of genius and the general inequality of human faculty: physiologically considered. Ward & Downey, 1891.
Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/mad_scientist. Accessed 18 Jan. 2018.
Schummer, Joachim. “Historical roots of the “mad scientist”: Chemists in nineteenth-century literature.” Ambix,vol. 53, no. 2, 2006, pp. 99-127.
Stiles, Anne. “Literature in Mind: HG Wells and the evolution of the mad scientist.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 70, no. 2, 2009, pp. 317-339.
Toumey, Christopher P. “The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of Science.” Science, Technology, & Human Values, vol. 17, no. 4, 1992, pp. 411-437.