The hypotheses of “The time machine”

Through Pamela Bedore, Ph.D., University of Connecticut

The 19th century was an incredibly fertile time for philosophical and technological change. There has been significant progress towards a more equitable society thanks to the end of movable property-based slavery and a growing movement of women. Something else happened in the same century that is crucial to the trajectory of utopian literature – the birth of science fiction.

The underground machinery of The time machine is modeled on the London subways of the late 19th century. (Image: author unknown / public domain)

But at the same time, the last decades of the century saw enormous income inequality, the inequality that prompted Edward Bellamy to write Looking back and this propelled this novel to such prominence among social and political activists. Are there any echoes of this inequality in HG Wells’ science fiction, The time machine?

This is a transcript of the video series
Great utopian and dystopian literary works. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

The Eloi and the Morlocks in The time machine

The time traveler in Wells’ work is the main character. He has built a time machine that allows him to travel through time. The Time Traveler is a scientist, and uses the scientific method and tells his story with all the assumptions.

The time traveler explains that when he first arrives in the future, he finds a society of beings called the Eloi, elegant little humans who seem to live a happy, egalitarian lifestyle in which they do very little. job. He first imagines that they are alone in their utopian communities, and that their general lack of curiosity for him and his machine results from the comfort of their well-balanced and relatively static life.

Eventually, however, he learns that the Eloi are not alone in their world. They live above the ground, as you would expect. But underground lives another fully developed society, the Morlocks.

They are much larger than the Eloi, with atavistic qualities, almost resembling monkeys. They can’t stand the light which means they only come out at night which makes them a bit scary. And underground, they have machines, tons of machines, just like London’s new subways, critics noted. And all this machinery, all this energy and work beneath the surface – it makes the passive, enlightened lifestyle of the Eloi possible.

Learn more about the origins of utopia.

The leisure class and the working class

The Eloi, the leisure class, subjugate the Morlocks, the working class. This hypothesis fits fairly well into the thinking of the turn of the century. In fact, we might see it as just another version of what Bellamy might have written if the good people of Looking back not taken steps to create an egalitarian society.

If the leisure class tends to reproduce within its own limits – through formal eugenics or through the simple reality that the rich tend to interact with other rich people – and the working class tends to do the same. , will two quite distinct groups of beings emerge from the common ancestry of humans?

And would it be a kind of less natural selection than that of which Darwin speaks, something more in conformity with the eugenics of Francis Galton? Or does the novel provide a long disagreement with Herbert Spencer’s developmental hypothesis, which maintains that evolution always goes from the simple to the complex?

Researchers found evidence in Wells’ novel to support all of these readings.

Is there a conflict in The time machine?

As the time traveler explores underground trying to figure out how to get his time machine, which the Morlocks have appropriated, he questions his second hypothesis, realizing that the Eloi certainly don’t act like masters, and the Morlocks, except for their day-blindness, certainly don’t act like slaves, which leads him to the hypothesis: the Eloi and the Morlocks are in conflict with each other, and possibly on the verge of a war.

But science is full of hypotheses, correct or not, and it is not until quite late in history that the Time Traveler realizes what is really going on.

The symbiotic relationship in The time machine

A vintage photo showing a scientist examining something.
It seems that by using a scientist as the protagonist in The time machine, HG Wells gives us a nuanced vision of utopia. (Image: lynea / Shutterstock)

The Morlocks and the Eloi live in a symbiotic relationship, but it is not a master and slave relationship; it is a question of consumption and consumption. It is the Morlocks who control the Eloi, treating them essentially like cattle, fattening them so that they can eventually devour them.

It’s a really interesting take on utopia, or euchrony, isn’t it? When you put a scientist in a utopia, instead of, say, a sailor or a sheep farmer or a wealthy industrialist, will that character have a more nuanced view of utopia, perhaps? be a more skeptical view? Will this character naturally continue to search under his initial assumptions in order to uncover the costs of what might appear to be a utopian life?

Learn more about Samuel Butler and utopian technologies.

Dystopian nuances in utopia

The time machine recalls the brilliant meta-utopian story of Ursula Le Guin Those who move away from Omelas. She certainly had Wells’ novel in mind when she wrote the fictional analysis through the utopian genre. In her short story, the people of Omelas can only live in their utopian society because of a suffering child, suggesting that what looks like utopia may in fact be dystopia, which encourages readers to research the hidden costs of happiness in their own societies. Are these costs too high?

Whimsically, we might see the Time Traveler’s assumptions as a similar kind of metacritical commentary on the development of utopian literature, where, at first, utopia is set on an island in what is fundamentally the isolation of other companies.

But then we realize there is a cost to highly functional society, like Thomas More’s slaves. Utopia or the sacrifice of technology at Samuel Butler Erewhon. And then, finally, we realize that the people we think are living in a utopia may actually be living in a dystopia. It’s a new kind of dualism, isn’t it?

The contradiction of utopia in this context is no longer that the perfect place is not a place. It’s the worry that the perfect place is somewhere, maybe our place, but it’s an illusion underpinned by peril that drives it into the nightmare realm, what we might call the dystopian.

Common questions about the assumptions of The time machine

Q: What is the relationship between the Morlocks and the Eloi in The time machine?

In The time machine, the Morlocks and the Eloi live in a symbiotic relationship, but it is not a master and slave relationship; it is a question of consumption and consumption.

Q: Who are the Morlocks in? The time machine?

In The time machine, Morlocks are much larger than Eloi, with atavistic qualities, and almost look like monkeys. They are not light-resistant, which means they only come out at night.

Q: Who are the Eloi in The time machine?

In The time machine, Eloi are stylish little humans who seem to live a happy, egalitarian lifestyle in which they do very little work.

Keep reading
The utopian plan in “Those who move away from Omelas”
Understanding Utopia in Postmodern Literature
Utopian fiction after Thomas More

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