The Time Machine: Bleak Yet Beautiful

In her introduction to The Time Machine, Ursula K. Le Guin ponders whether H.G. Wells was an optimist or a pessimist in his view of the future. Upon a first glance at Wells’ cleverly veiled critique of Victorian capitalism and industrialism, it would be facile to dismiss Wells as a socialistic pessimist who saw absolutely no good in mankind’s industrial progress. When the Time Traveler first finds himself in the world of the Eloi, he imposes upon this world the ideals of perfection that he himself (and perhaps Wells as well) desires to exist within a utopia: equality for all, absence of factories, communistic style of living, and a total conquest over nature. Presently unknown to him is the fact that the problems of this futuristic world are literally buried underground with the Morlocks. So, 800,000 years have passed and man’s intelligence and industrialization has already passed its pinnacle, yet, all of these conquests have culminated in naught as civilization retreats into a primitive form. From this perspective, Wells’ view of man’s future is abysmally bleak, and invoked a sort of hopeless despair within me as a read it.

However, it is impossible to overlook those symbolic withered flowers of hope laying on the table. Hundreds of thousands of years of building up an empire have wiped many species into extinction and presumably altered the entire landscape of the world. Even still, this was not enough to rid the world of compassion. Weena, the only character in the story who is named and not merely known by a moniker, is a testament to the indestructibility of love in a crumbling world. In this aspect, Wells had an optimistic view of the durability of the human condition which served as an interesting and well-crafted contrast to the aforementioned social issues he raised in his dystopia.

So, it appears to me that, while he was certainly critical of society, Wells was far more than just a harbinger of doom. I believe that Wells sees progress not as a skyline full of enormous buildings, but as the growing ability to love wholly and unconditionally. I am certain that it was no small feat for Wells to highlight beauty at the twilight of mankind, but he does this masterfully. Ultimately, it is nearly impossible for me to label Wells as an optimist or a pessimist, as extremely convincing arguments could be made for both sides. Frankly, I do not think this classification matters very much in the end. Wells’ view of the end of time may be utterly confusing and complex, but it is absolutely extraordinary. I would recommend this book to any reader of modern apocalyptic literature to see where many of the genre’s tropes and themes truly began.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *