The Time Machine: Summary:chapter 4-5

Chapter 4


Summary: The Traveller makes his initial contact with the inhabitants of the year AD 802,701. They are friendly and childlike, elegant but frail. They do not exhibit much intelligence, artistic inclination, or even curiosity. They tire easily. They are vegetarian, and seem to live in a communal or communist society, without distinction among themselves. The Traveller concludes (as it turns out, only partially correctly) that these people are the inevitable result of centuries of the human race’s progress toward a life free of strife. He sees no evidence that there is any more struggle to survive. The people want to place the Travellers’ Machine on display; the Traveller pockets the levers that activate the Machine. He dines with them in a vast, magnificent but ruined hall, and learns something of their language. After the meal, he explores his surroundings. He discovers more ruins, including what look to be wells and “the derelict remains of some vast structure… [where] I was destined, at a later date, to have a very strange experience…”


Analysis: This chapter serves to introduce some of Wells’ social theorizing into the narrative. Until the aftermath of World War II, Wells remained a fairly constant, confident believer in the inevitability of human progress. One of his popular non-fiction works, The Outline of History (1920), for instance, posits a near-utopian community of nations as the human race’s ultimate desitnation: “a time when all such good things [as education, health, and leisure] will be for all men may be coming more nearly than we think. Each one who believes that brings the good time nearer; each heart that fails delays it.” Interestingly, then, the future society Wells’ Time Traveller visits does not seem to him to be a perfect world. Although some of its traits are qualities of which Wells the author approved (communism; equality of the sexes—p. 27), the Traveller expresses disappointment that the inhabitants of futurity, while physically beautiful and seemingly benevolent, are also intellectually beneath him and lacking in culture. For example, although the hall in which he and the people dine has a “general effect” of being “rich and picturesque,” it is also “dilapidated” and in disrepair (p. 25). The Traveller concludes he is witnessing “humanity upon the wane” (p. 29). The human race has done so well in bending the natural world to its wants and needs, it no longer participates in the Darwinian struggle for existence; yet, as a result, humanity no longer demonstrates “intelligence and vigour” (p. 30). The species has no challenges left to meet. The Traveller sums up the situation: “Humanity had been strong, energetic, and intelligent, and had used all its abundant vitality to alter the conditions under which it lived. And now came the reaction of the altered conditions” (p. 31). Ironically, the conditions against which humanity struggles are, in the Traveller’s opinion, the very conditions that lead humanity to define itself: “We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity, and, it seemed to me, that here was that hateful grindstone broken at last!” (p. 31). The theory is an intriguing one, even apart from Wells’ narrative; however, within the context of the book, we will learn—as the Traveller hints even now—that it does not fully explain the world in which he finds himself.


Significantly, the Traveller makes numerous mentions in this chapter of the flora of the future: “Everything was so entirely different from the world I had known—even the flowers” (p. 26); “At first I was puzzled by all these strange fruits, and by the strange flowers I saw, but later I began to perceive their import” (p. 25). Wells is probably foreshadowing the conclusion of his book, when the Traveller produces flowers he has brought back with him from the future.


Chapter 5


Summary: During his first night in the future, the Traveller discovers that his Machine is missing. He is unable to communicate with the people as to the Machine’s location, but he supposes that it must, for some reason and by some unknown means, have been taken into the hollow pedestal of the White Sphinx. The people seem affronted when the Traveller gestures his desire to go inside the pedestal. He consoles himself with the knowledge that he still has the levers that activate the Machine. 


As the days pass, the Traveller explores the future world further. He meets Weena, a young woman who develops a great attachment to him. He also spies several “white, ape-like” creatures who remain in the shadows and who only seem to venture freely at night. The Eloi—the little, beautiful people with whom the Traveller is living—act terrified of these others, the Morlocks. The Traveller comes to realize that the Morlocks must live underground, with access to and from the surface through the cupola-topped wells he has seen. He supposes that the Morlocks’ industry supports the Eloi’s idleness—but he warns his audience that his supposition eventually proved mistaken. The Traveller concludes that the Morlocks, the laborers of this future society, must have taken his Machine.


Analysis: For all the Traveller’s protestations that his theories about the future world proved “wrong” (p. 40) and “fell far short of the truth” (p. 45), readers cannot help but get the sense that they do accurately convey some of Wells’ own critiques of his Victorian society. The Traveller explicitly compares the supposed relationship of the Eloi and the Morlocks to that of the wealthy class and the labor class in 19th-century England, a system in which the lower classes supported the “indolent serenity” of the upper (p. 44). Speaking through the Traveller, Wells draws attention to the “widening gulf” (p. 46; language, incidentally, reminiscent of the biblical parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16:26) between the rich and the poor. Both classes are cut off from the land as well as from each other; Wells’ society experienced a rigid “social stratification,” and the Traveller assumes he is seeing the logical consequence of that arrangement, in which “above ground you must have the Haves, pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Havenots; the Workers continually adapted to the conditions of their labour” (p. 46). Although the Traveller does not express explicit judgment of his own society, readers may fairly assume that Wells is expressing such judgment through the Travellers’ words. A long-time Socialist and member of the Fabian Society (devoted to organizing a democratic socialist state in Britain), Wells poured into his early fiction “the desire to oppose and eradicate the injustices of contemporary society” (John Clute & Peter Nicholls, The Science Fiction Encyclopedia, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1993, p. 1313). Readers will also see in this chapter Wells’ interest in the social implications of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Briefly put, Darwin taught that different species evolved over the ages through the mechanism of “natural selection.” Those organisms that adapted to their environment survived and flourished; those that did not adapt eventually died out. This dynamic is known in Darwinian thought as “the survival of the fittest.” Although Darwin’s theory holds for all living creatures, including human beings, he did not himself teach that it applied to human society—Darwin did not teach what came to be known as “social Darwinism,” the idea that “the fittest” people should survive in society, while “the unfit” should be allowed to perish. Others, however, made the analogous connection; and this chapter shows the Traveller doing so, as well. Future humanity, the Traveller comes to realize, “had not remained one species, but had differentiated into two distinct animals” (p. 44). The Morlocks had adapted to their subterranean environment, while the Eloi were “fit” (although clearly they are the physically inferior of the two species) for their life above ground, in the light. Thus, this chapter presents the Traveller’s revised view of the “great triumph of Humanity” he thought he had discovered: it was not a state of affairs achieved by “moral education and general co-operation,” but “a triumph over nature and the fellow-man” (p. 47). It is a much uglier reality than the Traveller’s first scenario of “an automatic civilization and a decadent humanity” (p. 39). It is perhaps no accident that the Traveller uses the word “leprous” twice early on in the chapter to describe the moonlit landscape of the future—it is a society that is diseased, that is “far fallen into decay” (p. 47). Wells thus puts forth a critique of his own society in the guise of a fiction about an imaginary one—a hallmark of classic science fiction.