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.

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