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How are the advances of the Victorian era presented in ‘The Time Machine’

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  • Word count: 2075
  • Category: time

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What inspired H. G. Wells to develop and later write ‘The Time Machine’ was his surroundings. Wells wrote ‘The Time Machine’ in 1894 just as he was beginning to discover the world, but what makes Wells’ situation so unique and interesting is that he was growing up in a time where so much change was happening around him. People were growing apprehensive about the advances in science and machinery; they probably even feared that eventually the machines would become so powerful and huge that they would not be able to be controlled.

While the majority of Victorians feared this, no author had had the confidence or knowledge to write an entire novella, putting those feelings into motion. He published his thoughts and ideas in small weekly sections that later went on to become the chapters of the novella. He blended together science, politics, adventure and romance. All these words may not sit well together but Wells had a specific idea on how to get Victorian society to listen.

While other writers might choose to force facts on you, convince you that as time went on society would cease to exist, Wells sold his ideas to society, covering up his thoughts under layers of appealing material. People read what they initially thought was going to be an adventure story with a hero at the centre of it who travelled off into the distant and mysterious future, rescued the damsel in distress, fought a few bad guys and ended with the words “happily ever after”.

Instead, they realized that what they were reading was, in fact, a warning telling them what would happen to the future world if they continued to applaud technological advances. Of course, if the beginning of ‘The Time Machine’ started off in a way that made the theory of time travel seem believable, then the rest of the novella would seem that way as well and would save itself from being just another escapist piece of fiction. This is what Wells intended and the first chapter introduces both the main character, the Time Traveller, as well as the narrator.

The narrator recounts his experiences of listening to the Time Traveller tell his heroic tales to an awestruck room, with a select handful of Victorian professions, such as the Provincial Mayor, the Medical Man and the Psychologist. The Time Traveller, when first introduced, is an intellectual. He is a scientist who belongs to the upper class, lives in a grand house and befriends heads of society. The reader is probably unaware of what he transforms into later on in the story.

We, the readers, come to learn that the Time Traveller is planning to venture off to the future and that he has gathered an array of important society-based people that he wishes to explain what he plans to do. Not only is the Time Traveller talking to his select audience, he is also talking to the reader, as if we are one of the guests. This is Wells’ narrative craft beginning to show and demonstrates that he knew what he was talking about when he wrote it. The Time Traveller explains what he is going to do and how he is going to achieve it in such complicated terminology, that we have no other choice than to suspect it to be true.

For example, the following statement makes for complicated reading yet it is said with such confidence that, after a long period of thought, could be thought of as real and believable. ” There are really four dimensions, three which we call the planes of Space, and a fourth, Time… Our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives. ” Now that Wells has successfully appealed to the now fascinated reader using real science, he can venture outside the room filled with dinner guests and begin the exploration of the story.

When he eventually steps out of the Time Machine, after viewing his world change into none that is hardly recognisable, he is greeted by a race half the size of the Time Traveller. They seem to take quite an interest in him, as if they have never seen anything like him before. Immediately, this ‘current’ race embrace him into their civilisation and are affectionate towards him. This is where the Time Traveller makes his first hypothesis; the future consists of a utopian society where everyone gets along and the human race has evolved into the new race of ‘Elois’.

Of course, this hypothesis does not remain much longer as the Time Traveller notices more than a few things are out of place. When realising his Time Machine had been stolen, he soon “startled some white animal that, in the dim light, I took for a small deer”. The white sphinx, which he noticed as soon as he stepped out the Time Machine and which seemed monumental especially compared to the frail beings of the Elois, causes fear amongst them. “Then I saw the horror and repugnance of his face”. When an Eloi is dragged towards the sphinx, he becomes scared and senses an evil within it.

All these mysterious details build up the suspense and the reader is forced to listen to the story in order to gain information about all of these hidden clues. Once Wells knows that he has them reading onwards, the Time Traveller discovers a new race. Those that live in the darkness and are rarely seen. The Time Traveller soon makes his second hypotheses; The future is a world of extremes, created by capitalism, and the human race has divided into two races, the Elois and the ‘Morlocks’. The whole of chapter 5 has a very scientific tone yet still retains political undercurrents.

Wells is criticising the Victorian society he lives in, again warning them that if the division between the people in the upper classes and those in the working class continues to broaden at the rate it was going, then this would be the end result. Wells also creates a sense of realism amongst the somewhat surreal environment that is the vast future. If the story and its pace were too extreme and implausible, people would not pay attention. By incorporating real science as this safeguard, people would find it difficult to criticise the authenticity of the story.

So far, we know the Time Traveller to be an intellectual expert in the field of science. So it comes as quite a surprise when we find out that he is to venture into the world of the Morlocks in order to recover his lost Time Machine. This is his dilemma and it needs to be resolved. This is a very common and familiar theme in all fictional stories and may well be Wells’ fascination with exploration and adventure beginning to shine through the increasingly dark undertones that have begun to take over the story.

When the Time Traveller finally enters the hostile world, he discovers that the Morlocks are swiftly becoming the dominant race and that the Elois fear them because the Morlocks are harvesting them. Herein, Wells touches upon Karl Marx’s ideology of communism. The Elois are the proletariat who are being forced to work for the Morlocks, the bourgeoisie. This is the Time Traveller’s third and final hypothesis; the division of the classes has evolved over time to such an extent that the working class, the Morlocks, has revolted and is now regaining power and authority over the upper class who use to rule over them, the Elois.

To some extent, the fact that the Time Traveller continuously philosophises his theories shows how unsure he is and we begin to see the unravelling of a usually confident and bold character. “I must confess that my satisfaction with my first theories of an automatic civilization and a decadent humanity did not long endure”. For the first time, we see that the Time Traveller has a sense of fear about him due to his latest hypothesis. However, this fear only incites the Time Traveller onwards in the hope that he would regain his increasingly absent machine.

Only after the Time Traveller has entered The Palace of Green Porcelain brandishing a weapon for protection and then later exiting due to incorrect assumptions, does he make an important observation on the descent of the human race. “I understood now what all the beauty of the over-world people covered. Very pleasant was their day, as pleasant as the day of the cattle in the field. Like the cattle they knew no enemies and provided against no needs, and their end was the same. ”

Wells has astutely compared the race of the Elois to cattle using ironic and figurative language, how they work all day for the means of production but in the end get consumed by those that they work for, the Morlocks. Getting weary, the Time Traveller rests for the night, unaware that the Morlocks are closing in on him through the surrounding woods. When he wakes, he is heroically able to deter the race with a packet of old matches he kept in his pocket. This highlights the fear the Morlocks have of the light and justifies why they live in the darkness underground and have evolved to be able to live without eyelids.

When comparing the current Traveller to the one from the first two chapters, it is clear to see how he has had to adapt to the future. Eventually making it back to the white sphinx, he finds that the bronze doors that were once sealed shut are now open. Inside is his beloved contraption and he is able to time travel once more. He chooses, instead of venturing backwards to his own era, to travel into the very far future until he notices the death of the sun. Stopping the Time Machine, he realises there is now no such thing as night and day as there is no moon.

Consequently, there is no tide either and he finds himself on a beach surrounded by lush vegetation. The Time Traveller also notices there is a lack of oxygen in the air. Wells is trying to explain in as much detail as possible, the sensations that the Traveller goes through when witnessing the death of the sun and thus the end of earth and mankind altogether. Giant crabs also make an appearance, which might be Wells either astutely adding his views concerning Darwin’s theory of evolution, that crabs were the first creatures to walk on land and now it has come full circle and they are the last remaining.

Or, Wells might just have got bored. The connotations of chapter 11 are rather depressing and some argue that the descriptive extinction of mankind is a testament to the meaningless of our lives today. Everyone tries to make a difference but it is all in vain as in the end there will be no proof of it left when the sun and earth expire. Wells hoped that this message in particular would hit Victorian society where it hurts. What he is saying is that we should make the most of what we have and that we should be constantly thinking about the future and what we can do to preserve the sanctity of it.

By rushing ahead with technological, scientific and political advances, we would only have ourselves to blame when the regrettable choices that we made in the past come back to haunt us. By presenting his ideas through a time travel story, Wells may also be hinting that if these effects that we cause now reach unprecedented levels, there would be no way to travel back in time and prevent it from happening. The Time Traveller returns to the era from which he began his journey and tells the same selection of friends, from the beginning of the story, his experiences of the future.

Not only is he talking to the guests, he talks to the reader and hopes they have the same reaction as the surrounding company. He tells them to “take it as a lie – or a prophecy” and the room is filled with a range of emotions. Some believe his story to be true while others dispute it. This reflects reality where the novella was met with a mixed response. One thing was sure though, that the influence of the novella had a definite impact on Victorian society and that H. G. Wells had succeeded in communicating his concerns to a wide range of races, ethnicities and classes.

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