The Time Machine H. G. Wells
(Born Herbert George Wells) English autobiographer, novelist, essayist, journalist, and short story writer.
The following entry presents criticism on Wells's novella The Time Machine (1895). See also H. G. Wells Short Story Criticism.
Published in book form in 1895, The Time Machine is regarded as the best-known of Wells's “scientific romances” and one of the most influential stories about time travel ever written. Although the story was not the first to explore the concept of time travel, it is significant for its pseudoscientific explanation of how time travel could possibly occur. The novella initially appeared in serialized form as “The Chronic Argonauts” in Science School Journal in April 1888; it was then revised and published as The Time Machine in National Observer in 1894 and the New Review in January 1895. Wells revised the story again for the Atlantic Edition, which was published in 1924. Since its initial appearance in book form, The Time Machine has never gone out of print.
Plot and Major Characters
Written in a conversational tone, The Time Machine opens with an unnamed narrator professing his admiration for his mentor, the older scientist known only as the Time Traveller. The narrator reflects on the disappearance of the Time Traveller three years before and contends that he is telling the story to attest to the powers of the human imagination and as a warning of what the future can bring. He describes the Thursday night dinners the Time Traveller used to give at his home for a group of his friends. It was at one of these occasions that the Time Traveller first asserted that the Fourth Dimension not only existed, but that time travel was possible. In fact, he showed his friends a small model of his new invention, a time machine. The assembled group is shocked when he makes the machine disappear before their eyes. On the next Thursday, the Time Traveler further astounds his waiting guests when he appears suddenly in the dining room, disheveled, dirty, and limping. He explains that since their last meeting he has traveled to the year 802,701, where he expected to find amazing technological and cultural progress. Instead, he finds a race of beings he calls the Eloi, a diminutive, weak people who live together in harmony. Yet he is surprised to find the Eloi bereft of intellectual curiosity and fearful of the dark. The reason for this becomes clear to him when darkness falls and he discovers a second species, the Morlocks, described as primordial, predatory creatures who live below the surface and feed on the Eloi after dark. The Time Traveller chronicles his many adventures in the future, including rescuing Weena, an Eloi and love interest, from drowning; unearthing the truth of what happened to the human race; and escaping a group of marauding Morlocks. The Time Traveller then journeys even further into the future, where he discovers the extinction of all human life on Earth. When he travels thirty million years into the future, he finds no signs of life at all. He begs his skeptical guests to heed his warning: the human race cannot be allowed to devolve into the primitive Eloi and Morlocks. He then announces that he will return to the future in an attempt to further understand what awaits the human race. The Time Traveller never returns from his last journey.
Critics have found parallels between the narrator's and Time Traveller's relationship in The Time Machine and that of the dual protagonists in Joseph Conrad's tale “Heart of Darkness.” Most commentators have focused on major thematic concerns embodied by the conflict between the Eloi and Morlock races. The story is often perceived from a Darwinian perspective; it has been noted that Wells often employed the theory of evolution as a motif in his scientific romances. Some critics have focused on Wells's concept of the duality of the individual: in the story, the Time Traveller asserts that the contradictory characteristics of the Eloi and Morlock exist within the individual and are held together by love and intellectual interest. Other commentators have interpreted the novella from a Marxist perspective: in this vein, the Morlocks represent the proletariat and the Eloi are viewed as the bourgeois class. With this interpretation, The Time Machine is considered a sociopolitical commentary on turn-of-the-century England. Autobiographical aspects of the story have been investigated, as issues of class were another recurring theme in Wells's life and work. Moreover, some scholars have argued that The Time Machine can also be perceived as an exploration of the dualities between aestheticism and utilitarianism as well as pastoralism and technology. The utopian and mythological qualities of The Time Machine have been a rich area for critical discussion.
Upon its publication in book form in 1895, The Time Machine was hailed as a masterpiece. Yet the novella was classified as a scientific romance, a genre considered by many—including Wells himself—as inconsequential. It wasn't until Bernard Bergonzi's study, The Early H. G. Wells: A Study of the Scientific Romances (1960), that critics began to take Wells's work seriously and catapulted The Time Machine into the ranks of classic English literature. It was Bergonzi who first discussed the mythological aspects of the novella. Reviewers have investigated its profound influence on the genre of science fiction and later generations of authors, such as Jorge Louis Borges, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. Some critics have proclaimed Wells as “the father of modern science fiction.” The Time Machine is still one of Wells's best-known works. The book has been translated into many languages, and has inspired cinematic adaptations and literary sequels.