Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 468
THE TIME MACHINE, the first and arguably the finest of H.G. Wells’s science fiction novels, begins in the comfortably prosperous world of the Victorian professional classes, where a scientist proposes the possibility of traveling in the fourth dimension--Time. Wells wisely never tries to explain how the scientist’s time machine works but instead describes its appearance and the sensation that time-traveling produces.
Whatever the principles behind it, the machine succeeds in taking the Time Traveler to A.D. 802,701. England of that age seems to be paradise--an uncultivated yet weedless garden inhabited by the Eloi, a delicate, androgynous people oddly lacking in curiosity and intelligence.
Besides depicting the future world, Wells shows the scientist’s clear, logical mind judging it and attempting to fathom its workings. Reasoning from Darwin’s evolutionary theories, the Time Traveler surmises that, having perfectly controlled the environment, mankind has lost all need for intelligence and initiative. Then he encounters a second race, the Morlocks, who live underground, retain some remnants of technological skill, and eat meat. At first the Time Traveler suspects that mankind has diverged into two races: The descendants of capitalists living on the surface, the long-distant offspring of laborers existing below and serving the Eloi out of instinct. Later he learns the stark truth of the relationship: The Morlocks are shepherds, the Eloi their sheep.
Having seen how the human race has, in the act of perfecting its world, committed suicide, the Time Traveler departs. His scientific passion for knowledge takes him yet farther into the future. After returning and reporting his discoveries to his friends, he travels off on the machine yet again, leaving behind only two strange, withered flowers: proof that his adventure was real and symbols of man’s future fate.
Bergonzi, Bernard, ed. H. G. Wells: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976. Two critical essays on The Time Machine. One addresses the novel as myth, the other as prophecy. Readable and informative.
Costa, Richard Hauer. H. G. Wells. New York: Twayne, 1967. Multiple references to The Time Machine, with critical references. A good starting place.
Hammond, J. R. H. G. Wells and Rebecca West. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Associates the novel with the writer’s scientific understanding of the human species and with his interest in a fourth dimension. Illustrated. Bibliography.
Hammond, J. R. H. G. Wells and the Modern Novel. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Finds Wells a deserving and overlooked, innovative writer. One analytical chapter calls The Time Machine a “watershed in the coming of modernism.” Appendix, notes, bibliography, and index. Evocative, scholarly, readable.
Wells, H. G., Julian S. Huxley, and G. P. Wells. The Science of Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1934. Describes Wells’s study of science and his consequent understanding of human life.