The Time Machine – A Review

In H. G. Wells’ vision of the future, the result of wealth disparity and technological progression for the sake of leisure is a dystopian era, where humanity has literally been split into two species; the beautiful, but impotent Eloi, and the carnivorous, underworld dwelling Morlocks. In this dichotomy, the Eloi are the descendants of the upper class, whose easy, unstressed lives causes their half (or maybe just 1%) of the human race to devolve into a species that lacks a need for any kind of mental or physical self-improvement. The Morlocks, meanwhile, are the descendants of a lower class that is slowly pushed underground while the rest of human civilization approaches its zenith without them. Transitioning to a subterranean life combined with the constant toil and strife of their labor causes the lower class to evolve into grotesque, beastly creatures that lurk in the dark and feed upon the Eloi in a pseudo-cannibalistic manner.

This dichotomy of species sets the stage for two central arguments: one, that adversity is necessary for the continued development of the human race, and two, that the unending subjugation of the proletariat will lead to the destruction of their humanity. In this regard, The Time Machine subverts the notion of future society as an advanced, technological utopia, instead taking for granted the downfall of humanity, and focusing on what happens after humanity is gone to form a parable for the consequences of capitalism’s bloom in the 19th Century.

Wells’ argument is effective, insofar as his portrayal of the future is alarmingly stark, but its premise is less compelling without some suspension of disbelief, and so The Time Machine is better read as a philosophical undertaking than a work of speculative fiction. Nevertheless, where The Time Machine functions purely as a critical allegory, it succeeds in offering plenty for the reader to consider. Its focus is both primitivistic, emphasizing the dangers of a society that relies too heavily on technology, but also critical of that same primitivism, lamenting the death of human intellect that pervades the shallow, helpless lives of the Eloi.

That Wells takes for granted humanity’s end is certainly bleak, but it also reminds the reader that the problems at the core of The Time Machine need solving in the present. If humanity is only temporary, then why not strive to make the best of what time remains? The Time Machine assumes that the earth will still exist in a livable form by year 802,701 C.E., and that assumption alone, whether current humanity remains or not, suggests that Wells has some hope for our survival, be it in some subspecies or another. If, however, Wells’ hopeful assumption seems dubious to a reader in the age of climate change, then perhaps The Time Machine’s depiction of complacency towards a flawed status quo is only more relevant.

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