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The Time Machine

by H. G. Wells

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What is the theme of The Time Machine?

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One of the most important themes in The Time Machine is the ambiguous nature of technology. On the one hand, technology can liberate the human species by opening up new vistas of opportunity, such as time travel. On the other hand, it cannot always mitigate subjugation and repression, as in the case of the Morlocks.

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There are several themes tied together across The Time Machine. There's a strong focus on science and scientific theory, along with the (from a geological perspective) ephemeral nature of human existence: human existence and evolution is not static, and human beings have no special destiny. In the distant future, modern humanity has been entirely replaced, and we see instead the world of the Elois and the Morlocks.

Combined with these ideas of evolution is a very strong focus on the class system (and a criticism of it). There is a sense by which the Morlocks and the Eloi represent a vision of evolution where biology has come to reflect a nightmarish vision of the industrial class structure. (And note the degree to which both groups have been diminished in the process—in the Morlocks, we see the working class reduced to monstrous, subterranean creatures, whereas in the Eloi, the upper classes have been reduced to a state of infantile helplessness.) From this perspective, one could argue that the class structure is debilitating for all its participants—upper and working class alike.

At the same time, it's interesting to note that this nightmarish future is not necessarily the greatest nightmare that the Time Traveler runs across, for this world too is ephemeral, just as much as the world of modern humanity proves to be. The Time Traveler moves even further into the future, to a thoroughly alien world inhabited by giant crabs and "a thing that looked like a huge white butterfly." From here, he travels further, watching as the sun approaches its death. In these scenes in particular, we really see how small and ephemeral the full scope of human history (along with all its accomplishments) truly is when even the Earth and the Sun are revealed as finite and approaching their end.

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One of the overall themes of the Time Machine as well as many literary works of the time, is the amazing struggle and conflict between classes.  In the novel, the ideas of the Eloi are at first seen as enlightened and the narrator expects that he has come across the first society to have overcome those class barriers.  Of course later he learns he was just not seeing things clearly and the same conflicts are still there and just as divisive as ever.

Another was the struggle between science and in some ways morality, the idea that one should be striving to find and learn and discover everything possible and sometimes ignoring or not thinking carefully about the consequences.

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In The Time Machine, as elsewhere in his work, Wells shows himself to be somewhat ambiguous about the nature of technology. Here we are presented with both the good and bad sides of technological progress and left to make up our own minds whether technology is, on the whole, positive or negative.

The positive consequences of technology are not hard to spot in the book. The eponymous time machine is a truly remarkable invention; it is a technological breakthrough that, in allowing us to travel to different time dimensions, opens up vast new vistas of opportunity for humankind.

On the other hand, the time machine is far from being an unalloyed good. Though it can take us to so many different cultures and civilizations it can't prevent us from being stranded in them or from being quite literally stuck in the past or trapped in the future.

Speaking about technology in general, it's clear that it hasn't done any favors for the Morlocks, a race of slave-workers modeled closely on the British proletariat of the late Victorian era. Although the Morlocks are more technologically advanced than the Eloi, it's the Eloi who have the whip-hand over them.

The Eloi are based on the Victorian upper-classes, whose wealth and leisure are only possible due to the sweat and hard toil of a race of workers. It is they, and not the technologically superior Morlocks, who derive the real benefit from technological development.

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