Summary: The Traveller awakes and engages in some melancholy reflections upon the fate of future humanity. He goes to the White Sphinx, only to find its great, bronze doors open. Inside, he finds the Time Machine. The apparatus has been “carefully oiled and cleaned,” as though the Morlocks had taken great care to disassemble and reassemble it in the hopes of unlocking its secrets. Suddenly, the Sphinx’s doors close. The Traveller is aware of Morlocks closing in on him, thinking him trapped; however, he replaces the Machine’s levers (which, readers will recall, he has kept with him the entire time), and, following a brief struggle with the Morlocks, activates his invention. He flings himself once more into the future.
Analysis: The bulk of this brief chapter is given over to further developments of the Traveller’s interpretation of the future state of humanity. If previous chapters, as we have seen, develop the theme of sic transit gloria mundi, this chapter carries that theme to a crescendo of near-despair: “I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide” (p. 72). Readers may grasp the effect of such words in Wells’ own Victorian society, which generally held to a firm belief in the inevitability of human progress. Wells’ dystopic vision of the future challenges that belief in a relentless fashion—even in the person of the Traveller himself. Ironically, his own voyages into the future have had a de-civilizing effect on him. We have already seen his savage, prejudicial attitudes toward the Morlocks, and his eagerness to fight them, especially following the loss of Weena. Here, we read that the Traveller is “almost sorry not to use” his crowbar in a violent attack on the Sphinx’s doors, let alone the Morlocks (p. 73)—hardly the sentiment of an enlightened, modern man! Note also the hint of pleasure with which the Traveller describes the physical assault he does make upon the Morlocks before his temporal getaway: “I could hear the Morlock’s skull ring” (p. 74). Here again, as in the previous chapter, the Traveller emerges as a somewhat ambiguous representative of civilized humanity. To be fair, he may realize this about himself at some level: inspecting the “carefully oiled and polished” status of the Time Machine, he concludes that the Morlocks “had even partially taken it to pieces while trying in their dim way to grasp its purpose” (p. 74). Thus, the Traveller allows that these “savages” may yet be able to grasp his invetion’s inner workings. On the whole, however, the Traveller’s final analysis of future humanity is a pessimistic one. It casts the state of that society in stark, Darwinistic terms: “Mother Necessity, who had been staved off for a few thousand years, came back again, and she began below… [W]hen other meat failed the [Morlocks], they turned to what old habit had hitherto forbidden” (p. 73). The Traveller’s vision of the future is one, not of inevitable progress, but of inevitable decay. Even the beautiful Eloi are fated for the same end as the beasts of the field (see p. 72). Yes, the Traveller does, rhetorically, suggest that he may be mistaken, but he leaves no doubt that his contemporaries—and, of course, Wells’—should give heed to his words: “It is how the thing shaped itself to me, and as that I give it to you” (p. 73).
Summary: The Traveller journeys even farther into the future, arriving eventually in what appear to be the last days of the planet. He sees numerous monstrosities that have inherited the earth. He moves forward in intervals, ultimately a full thirty million years into the future, watching in fascination as the sun swells larger, preparing to envelop the Earth. When one final eclipse of utter darkness overtakes the surface of the world, the Traveller returns to his own time.
Analysis: Wells simultaneously evokes a sense of grandeur and grimness as he describes the death of planet Earth: e.g., “At last a steady twilight brooded over the earth, a twilight only broken now and then when a comet glared across the darkling sky” (p. 75); “I cannot convey the sense of abominable desolation that hung over the world” (p. 77). The scene is at once magnificent (that is, awe-inspiring, even if the awe is not in this case pleasant) and mournful. The creatures the Traveller spots—the “monstrous crab-like creature… as large as yonder table” (pp. 76-77), or the fly-like insects with “evil eyes” and “claws” “smeared with an algal slime” (p. 77), or the final, essentially unidentifiable creature, “a round thing” with “tentacles,” “hopping fitfully about” (p. 79)—inspire both fascination (note how the Traveller continues to press forward until he can go forward no more, “drawn on by the mystery of the earth’s fate,” p. 77) and repulsion. (Incidentally, the “monsters” of this far future earth anticipate Wells’ speculations in The War of the Worlds that the invading, monstrous Martians represent the future evolution of the human species—just as his description of the still, silent world on the brink of extinction anticipates some of his passages in the latter novel describing the aftermath of the Martians’ onslaught. But is the life that the Traveller sees in the farthest future any more ugly than the abominable society in which he sojourned in A.D. 802,701?) The chapter is in this sense the culmination of the sic transit gloria mundi theme Wells has developed throughout the novel—after all, the ultimate extension of the theme of the world’s decaying glory can only be the death of the world itself, its “eternal sunset” (p. 78).
Summary: The Traveller returns to his own time, noting that his Machine has moved from the southwest corner of his laboratory to the northwest—“the exact distance from my little lawn to the pedestal of the White Sphinx.” He admits that his dinner guests will no doubt find his tale impossible to believe; and, indeed, many of them do. Our narrator, however, is unable to decide whether he trusts the Traveller’s narrative. The day after the dinner party, he returns to the Traveller’s home. He finds the Traveller armed with a camera and knapsack. The Traveller promises he will prove his theories to our narrator, asking him to wait for a half hour. Our narrator waits that long, and longer; then, realizing he must keep another appointment, he goes to the Traveller’s lab to take his leave. There, he hears a loud shout and feels a gust of wind as he opens the door. The Traveller and his Machine are gone. Now, three years later, the Traveller has still not returned.
Analysis: Wells’ novel closes as it opened, with reflections upon the trustworthiness of the Traveller as a narrator. The Traveller invites—even challenges—his dinner guests (and, by extension, us as readers) to pass judgment on his tale: “Take it as a lie—or a prophecy… And, taking it as a story, what do you think of it?” (p. 81). Readers may be reminded of fantasy and science fiction author Ray Bradbury’s oft-quoted statement that his stories should be taken not as predictions but as warnings. The Traveller may be implying that, whether his audience accepts his tale as factually true or not, they remain obligated to wrestle with its moral implications regarding the future evolution of human society. Certainly, as readers of the novel, we know Wells’ story is a fiction; nevertheless, we, too, must reflect on the claims his novel makes regarding human society and its future. Certainly, our narrator does so in the brief epilogue that concludes the chapter. Our narrator knows that the Traveller had a bleak view of the human race’s destiny: he “thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind” (p. 85). For his own part, our narrator remains an agnostic, and even perhaps optimistic: “[T]o me the future is still black and blank… a vast ignorance” (p. 85); and yet he finds hope, symbolized by the two strange flowers the Traveller produced—the flowers given to him (if his tale can be trusted) by Weena, flowers that are for our narrator a “witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man” (p. 85). Ultimately, then, The Time Machine seems to affirm that what matters more than how humanity may live in the future is how we, the readers, live as human beings in the present.