Friday, 8 May 2009

The Time Machine by H.G.Wells

The Time Machine is an extremely short (only 81 pages) novella about a man known only as the time traveller recounting his story of his creation of a time machine and his subsequent visit to the year 802,701, where he encounters a society so completely changed by time that they are hardly recognisable as humanity.

The Time Traveller arrives in the year 802,701, in exactly the same position in time as he left in 1895, but finds the world covered in vegetation, dilapidated buildings and populated by a species he assumes to be the descendants of the human race, who he names the Eloi. Although they remain humanoid in appearance, their is very little human characteristic left. They eat only fruit, sleep communally, and seem to have lost all intellectual prowess, and the Time traveller compares them to children. His first assumption is that as all the world's problems have been solved, there has become no need for thought and intellect, thus leading to the devolution of the human race into this happy, carefree, childlike existence. And although at first glance this may seem like a good thing, the Time traveller himself does say;

"It seemed to me that I had happened upon humanity on the wane. The ruddy sunset set me thinking of the sunset of mankind. For the firs time I began to realise an odd consequence of the social effort at which we are at present engaged. And yet, come to think, it is a logical consequence enough. Strength is the outcome of need. The work of ameliorating the conditions of life-the true civilising process which makes life more and more secure-had gone steadily on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over nature had followed another. Things that are now mere dreams had become projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward. And the harvest was what I saw!"

It must be said though, that this first judgement about the fate of humanity has to be re-interpreted a number of times throughout the Time Traveller's stay, as he learns more about the society he has come to land in. All is not as idyllic as it seems. He soon discovers another species that live below the ground, who he names the Morlocks, and who they are is crucial to his understanding of how humanity has developed.

Wells was writing this story at a time when industrialisation, evolution and the class struggle were all prevalent discussion topics in London society, and it is clear that his feelings on these matters is expressed through this story. It is difficult to explain exactly how without giving the plot away totally, but through the two different societies, one living overground, and one living underground, the time traveller originally assigns 19th century capitalist values of the above ground being superior and of having forced the lower classes underground. However, as events proceed he is forced to reverse these values almost in a futuristic version of a socialist revolution.

It is however all speculation on the time travellers part. Although the roles in society of the Eloi and the Morlocks are clear at the conclusion of the story, it is all speculation as to how it became like this. He is only proposing theories, and it must be remembered that both the time traveller's and Wells' theories are heavily influenced by events current in 19th century England. In the end, I suppose it is social commentary and the authors fears over what might happen from the way the world is going.

All in all, this was a fascinating book. As an early example of time travel fiction, as an example of Victorian science and as an insight into Wells's somewhat negative view on the nature of humanity. Although he doesn't actually do much moralising, he seems to just present scenarios and leave the reader to decide on the rights and wrongs of it. And it does make you question which species is more human?


Charley said...

This sounds interesting. If you're interested in reading more Wells, I thought The Island of Dr. Moreau was fascinating. And also disturbing.

farmlanebooks said...

I didn't realise this book was so short - for some reason I picture it as a massive book of about 800 pages!

Your review has really made me want to pick it up - thank you!

Jo said...

Charley, I would like to read some more because I really enjoyed this. I'll look for that one.

Jackie, I had to reserve this from the library and I was shocked at how short it was too! I'd lways expected it to be long!