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The Time Machine

by H. G. Wells

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What is the role of women in The Time Machine by H. G. Wells?

Women as such are underrepresented in The Time Machine, but traditional feminine qualities are not.

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Women as such are underrepresented in The Time Machine, but traditional feminine qualities are not. In the book, Wells presents us with two distinct races—the Eloi and the Morlocks. The former are endowed with qualities which, in Wells' day, were associated with women. They are childlike and pretty; they are described as graceful and gentle with pretty curls upon their angelic heads. The generally condescending attitude towards women in Victorian society is reflected in the behavior of the Eloi. They are entirely submissive, lacking in any kind of knowledge or intellectual curiosity, preferring instead to spend their days in idle dissipation. Though harmless and unassuming, they are so caught up in their own little world that they fail to help Weena when she falls into a river.

In general, the Eloi are presented as almost completely useless. Such a portrayal could possibly be interpreted as Wells providing a satirical comment on the status to which upper-class women had been reduced in Victorian England. This impression is given further weight by the depiction of the Morlocks. Their aggression, savagery, and desire for control are character traits traditionally associated with men; they certainly would've been in Wells' day. The dark, ugly, shapeless world which they inhabit is contrasted sharply with the world of ease, light and color lived in by the Eloi. If the Eloi are taken to represent Victorian ladies of leisure, then the Morlocks are working-class males, toiling away in a dank, subterranean netherworld to provide luxuries for their social betters.

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The Time Machine is a heavily male-dominated story which features only one female character, Weena. This is a striking detail and is, perhaps, indicative of Wells' belief that women did not belong in the study of time travel or, more generally, in science. It is possible, however, to glean some ideas about the role of women through understanding Weena and her portrayal in the story.

First of all, the manner of Weena and the Time Traveller's meeting is significant. In Chapter Five, for example, the Time Traveller comes across a "poor mite" who is drowning in the river. This is his first introduction to Weena, who he rescues and takes to shore. In this portrayal, Weena's role is that of the helpless woman in need of saving by a heroic male.

This theme is further reinforced as their relationship develops in the story. Weena becomes increasingly reliant on the Time Traveller as his desire to protect her from the Morlocks increases. In Chapter Seven, for instance, the Time Traveller decides that he will take Weena back to London where he can take care of her. Again, this example is important in creating the Time Traveller as a heroic figure while simultaneously portraying Weena as the fragile and dependent woman who cannot survive without the support and patronage of a male figure. 

Weena never makes it to London. She is instead separated from the Time Traveller and killed by fire in Chapter Nine. This violent death raises an important point about the nature of relationships between men and women because it suggests that the latter cannot always be saved.

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