abstract illustration of concentric circles punctuated by lines emanating from a clock in the middle of the drawing

The Time Machine

by H. G. Wells

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Class Struggle
Prior to the eighteenth century in the West, a person was born into a caste and remained there until he or she died. After the eighteenth century and, with the proliferation of literacy and the standardization of currency, a class system began to emerge. More people had access to old professions, such as medicine and law, and new professions, such as writing and psychology, the latter of which are represented by the Time Traveller's guests. However, with the industrial revolution and the mass migration of rural laborers into the cities, the differences between the haves and the have-nots became more starkly visible. Wells capitalizes on the struggle between these two groups in his depiction of civilization 800,000 years in the future. When he first meets the Eloi, the Time Traveller initially believes society has evolved into a form of communism. However, as he learns more, he realizes that the class struggles of the nineteenth century have continued and are manifested in the relationship between the Eloi and the Morlocks.

In the nineteenth century, science became both a tool of understanding and a means of salvation. Numerous scientific theories and inventions helped science replace religion as the primary way that human beings related to their environment. Marx's theory of labor and capital and Darwin's theory of evolution described human beings as being in a constant struggle for survival, but inventions such as electricity, the telephone, and subways promised to make the struggle easier and people's lives more manageable. The Time Machine capitalized on the public's hunger for technology and the promise that technology offered. However, use of The Time Machine did not make life easier for the Time Traveller or result in any knowledge that could change the future. Rather, the Time Traveller's experiences showed a future of doom, as his journey revealed a world in which the struggles of the 1890s were not resolved but rather exacerbated. His journeys even deeper into the future revealed a world in which humanity had been extinguished from the face of the earth.

Evolution, a theory of life's origins and humanity's development, was a groundbreaking idea in the nineteenth century and literally changed the way that people thought about themselves and their place in the world. Biological evolution focuses on changes in a population over time. Wells helped to popularize Darwin's theory of evolution by presenting the scientific theory in a popular form, fiction. The Eloi and the Morlocks represent how human beings have genetically changed in the future as a result of their ability to adapt, or not, to their environments. The Morlocks, representing a mutation of the working class of Wells's day, are ape-like, with large eyes and white skin, features that have evolved because they live underground. They fear the light and love the darkness. Conversely, the Eloi are effete, fragile, and fearful of the dark, a result of thousands of years of not having to work to survive. They represent the owning class. Ironically, the Morlocks rule the Eloi. Wells's genius is "translating" difficult concepts such as natural selection by dramatizing them in fiction.

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