Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Time Machine begins with a dinner party, in which the inventor of a time machine explains to his disbelieving guests the principles on which his invention is based. This scene is a quintessential one in stories by Wells, in which an original mind finds itself checked by an audience that is taken aback by daring and ingenuity. The time traveler persists, however, gradually making his auditors reconsider their basic premises, even if they do not concede that it is possible to travel through time.
Although Wells rarely bothered to construct elaborate scientific justifications for his romances, the inventor’s speech can still seem convincing to the nonmathematician. Much of the book is cast in the inventor’s first-person narration, in which he recounts to his friends the results of his journey through time.
In the far distant future, the time traveler (he is never given a name) lands among a small, delicate, and timid people, the Eloi, who live on fruit. Their environment seems benign, yet they are afraid of the dark, huddling against the appearance of another people, the Morlocks, who the time traveler gradually discovers are the subterranean masters of this future world. The Morlocks are the meat eaters, feeding on the Eloi but otherwise staying below ground in deep shafts, which the time traveler must explore in pursuit of his time machine, the Morlocks having carried it away.
Much of the novel concerns the time...
(The entire section is 563 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
One evening after dinner with friends at his home, the Time Traveler leads the discussion to the subject of the relationship between time and space. It is his theory that time is a fourth dimension, and he believes that this concept can be proved. To the astonishment of his guests, he exhibits a small model of his Time Machine and declares that it can travel backward or forward in time. One of the guests is invited to touch a lever on the model, and, to the amazement of all, the machine disappears. The Time Traveler explains that the instrument is no longer visible because it is traveling into the past at such great speed that it is below the threshold of visibility.
The following week, the Time Traveler is not at home to greet his dinner guests when they arrive, but he has left word that they are to proceed without him. Everyone is at the table when their host comes in, dirty from head to toe, limping, and with a cut on his chin. After he has changed his clothes and dined, he tells his friends this story of his day’s adventures.
In the morning, he seats himself in his Time Machine and activates the mechanism. As he reels through space in the machine, he sees days shoot past him like minutes, and the rapid alternation of light and darkness as the sun rises and sets hurts the Time Traveler’s eyes. Falling from his machine when he brakes too suddenly, he finds himself on the side of a hill. In the misty light, he can see the figure of a...
(The entire section is 1299 words.)
The Time Machine is deservedly considered a science fiction classic. In it, Wells creates the intriguing world of the Morlocks and the Eloi, based on his concepts of human and social evolution. In this future world, the long-term dangers of an exaggerated class structure, in which the "have nots" are oppressed by the "haves," become apparent. In Wells's view, as often expressed by the time traveler, exploitation of the working classes produces a race of subhuman Morlocks, while years of self-indulgence and dependence lead to the moral degradation of the Eloi.
Apart from its social, philosophical, and economic themes, the book also appeals to readers because of its vivid description and rapidly unfolding plot. Few characters among the traveler's London circle of friends have names, but their actions give them personalities. On the other hand, except for Weena, no one in the world of the future needs individualizing. Only their racial uniformity seems to matter, a fact that shows clearly in their actions. Wells coaxes the reader into acceptance of the novel's basic scientific premisethe concept of time as the fourth dimensionboth by the logic with which the time traveller explains his machine and by the vividness of his trips through time.
(The entire section is 202 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
The Time Machine begins in the Time Traveller's home at a dinner attended by various friends and acquaintances, including the Medical Man, the Psychologist, the Very Young Man, the Provincial Mayor, Filby, and Hillyer, the narrator. As the Time Traveller describes how time is the Fourth Dimension, his guests argue with him, claiming that it cannot be a dimension because people cannot move through it as they can through space. The Time Traveller excuses himself and then returns with a machine, which, after the Psychologist pushes its small lever, disappears, allegedly into the Fourth Dimension. The Time Traveller then shows the group a larger version of The Time Machine and announces he plans to travel through time.
(The entire section is 117 words.)
Chapter 2-3 Summary
A week later, Hillyer, the Medical Man, and the Psychologist meet again at the Time Traveller's house, where they are joined by three newcomers: Blank, Dash, and Chose. The group begins dinner but is interrupted by the Time Traveller, who suddenly appears, haggard, thin, and dirty. After refreshing himself and eating, the Time Traveller promises to recount his story of where he has been, asserting that he has lived eight days since four o'clock that afternoon. The men are skeptical, especially Hillyer, who says, "The fact is the Time Traveller was one of those men who were too clever to be believed."
In this chapter, the Time Traveller tells his story, beginning with a description of time traveling, which he calls "excessively unpleasant." Traveling faster than a year per minute, the Time Traveller describes the disorientation he feels flying through time as seasons pass in a blur. He finally decides to land, pulling on the lever to bring his machine to a crashing halt in the middle of a hailstorm. Through the hail, the Time Traveller sees an enormous sphinx carved of white marble and huge buildings and a forest. In a frenzied panic, he rushes back to the machine from which he had been thrown, desiring to leave. Just then, a group of strange creatures approaches him. He regains his confidence, and his fear subsides when one of them, four feet tall and dressed in a purple tunic, walks up to...
(The entire section is 245 words.)
Chapter 4-5 Summary
It is 802,701 A.D., and the Time Traveller describes the race of small creatures as being on the intellectual level of five-year-olds. The creatures take him to a large building, where a number of them sit around and eat fruit. He learns they are vegetarian and live communally in one building, with the sexes mingling freely with each other. The Time Traveller becomes frustrated by the creatures' diminishing curiosity about his presence and his inability to communicate with them. Noting the creatures' indolence and the generally dilapidated look of the buildings, the Time Traveller speculates that the creatures evolved from the human race, growing weak because they had managed to decrease their population and to erase all "hardship and vigor" from their existence. His speculation about the creatures echoes both Karl Marx and Darwin's theories of economics and evolution respectively. At the end of the chapter, the Time Traveller signals that his guesses about the creatures are wrong.
In this chapter, the longest in the novel, the Time Traveller discovers that his machine is missing, and he sets about to find it, guessing that it is in the base of the White Sphinx. However, he cannot open the panel to access it, and the Eloi he asks to help him all refuse. Exploring the Thames River Valley, the Time Traveller sees deep circular wells, and he...
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapter 6-7 Summary
The Time Traveller discovers a large green building, which he refers to as the Palace of Green Porcelain. He will come back to this building later in the story. For now, he braces himself to explore the underground world of the Morlocks. Weena is too afraid to follow him into the well, but the Time Traveller continues, wending his way through a maze of underground tunnels, eventually coming across a large battery of machines on which the Morlocks are hard at work. As Morlocks come toward him, the Time Traveller scares them off with a match, but he runs out of matches just as he escapes from the underground lair.
In this chapter, Weena and the Time Traveller begin their journey back to the Palace of Green Porcelain but must sleep outside on a hill because night is descending. The Time Traveller muses on the insignificance of his own existence in relation to the universe and speculates on the nature of the relationship between the Morlocks and the Eloi, concluding that the underground mutants are keeping the Eloi alive both out of habit and for meat. This disgusts him and further spurs him to find his time machine.
This chapter is significant because it marks the only time that the Time Traveller stops his narrative to provide proof of his journey, pulling out "two withered flowers" that Weena had placed in his jacket pocket and putting them on the table for others to see.
(The entire section is 246 words.)
Chapter 8-9 Summary
The Time Traveller and Weena arrive at the Palace of Green Porcelain, which the Time Traveller inspects, discovering that it is a vast museum containing the ruins of "latter day South Kensington," with sections for natural history, paleontology, and geology. When Weena and the Time Traveller leave the museum, the Time Traveller arms himself with a box of matches and a lever he had broken off a machine in the museum with which to defend themselves against the Morlocks.
In this chapter, Weena and the Time Traveller set out for the White Sphinx, where the latter believes The Time Machine is being kept. The two are attacked by Morlocks, and the Time Traveller lights matches to ward them off, beating them with a mace. Weary from their fighting and travel, the two fall asleep. They awaken to see frenzied Morlocks running from a raging fire the Time Traveller had set earlier. In the confusion, the Time Traveller leaves Weena behind in the burning forest.
(The entire section is 166 words.)
Chapter 10-11 Summary
The Time Traveller finds the bronze panels at the base of the White Sphinx open and The Time Machine waiting for him. He jumps inside, and the Morlocks lock the doors behind him. After fighting off some of the ape-like creatures, the Time Traveller eventually starts the machine and jets into the fourth dimension.
The Time Traveller lands at a time of "abominable desolation" in which there is no trace of humanity but plenty of horrendous giant crab-like creatures and enormous centipedes scurrying about in the "inky blackness." The Time Traveller has difficulty breathing and surmises the air is thinner in the future. He travels even further into the future, thirty million years, only to find that all life has vanished, except a ghastly football-sized blob trailing tentacles against the blood-red water.
(The entire section is 134 words.)
Chapter 12 - Epilogue Summary
The Time Traveller returns to his home and his own time, convinced that because The Time Machine is at the other end of the laboratory, his experience was real and not a dream. He elicits responses from his guests, all of whom remain skeptical except for Hillyer, who returns the next day for more proof. The Time Traveller tells him that he will travel to the future and return in a half hour with just such evidence. Hillyer sees the Time Traveller disappear in a blur and waits for him to return, but he does not. The story ends with Hillyer saying that it has been three years since the Time Traveller left, and he has not yet returned.
Hillyer speculates on where the Time Traveller might be and notes the Time Traveller's pessimistic view of human progress. Even if the future is bleak, Hillyer says, human beings must live as if it is not while retaining hope for the future. This hope is symbolized by the two flowers that Weena had given the Time Traveller and that now belong to Hillyer.
(The entire section is 184 words.)