The Time Machine: Summary:chapter 8-9

Chapter 8


Summary: The Traveller and Weena arrive at the ruins of the Palace of Green Porcelain. The building appears to have been some sort of museum and library in the Traveller’s own era; it still contains the remnants of archaeological displays, machines, and books. The Traveller tries to find materials with which he can manufacture a defense against the Morlocks. 


Analysis: This chapter deals heavily in irony. The Palace was a museum and library designed to preserve its contents; but “with extreme sureness if with extreme slowness” time and decay have been “at work… upon all its treasures” (p. 60). The Palace is thus a symbolic expression of the sic transit gloria mundi theme sounded earlier; as the Traveller says, “Had I been a literary man, I might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of all ambition” (p. 63). Readers can be put in mind of such earlier literary testaments to the “futility of all ambition” as Percy Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias,” or the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” (Eccl. 1:2-3, KJV). When the Traveller reflects upon his own “seventeen papers upon physical optics” (p. 63), they may even remember a similar moment in Wells’ later book, The War of the Worlds, in which the scholarly narrator sees his intellectual efforts radically relativized in importance in the face of the Martian invasion. Readers may here also think of how the Traveller himself is a “relic” from his own “intellectual age” (p. 61) (even though he does not draw that connection and, of course, considers himself superior to the inhabitants of the far future). He takes a lever from one of the old machines for a mace. 


The Traveller’s statement that Weena “always seemed to me… more human than she was, perhaps because her affection was so human” (p. 60) may be an affirmation of the importance of affection and love as a defining trait of humanity. Wells might have thought so himself, given his commitment throughout most of his life to such ideals and to such causes as free love. In the immediate context of the book, however, the statement may strike readers as ironic because the Traveller is showing affection for Weena while having none to spare for the Morlocks (see the previous chapter’s discussion). Compounding this dissonance is his longing to use his lever-mace to smash “any Morlock skull I might encounter” (p. 62). The Traveller allows it may seem “very inhuman… to want to go killing one’s own descendants” (p. 62). This statement continues to question the Traveller’s own humanity, as the previous chapter did. If love and affection are defining qualities of the human being, where does this leave the Traveller, who can only show these qualities for the Eloi who are, if not exactly like him, recognizably the descendants of his own Industrial Revolution leisure class? More to the point, where does it leave the Traveller’s (and, of course, Wells’) contemporaries—and where does it leave the inhabitants of any society who allow some to prosper at the expense of others?


Chapter 9


Summary: The Traveller and Weena leave the Palace of Green Porcelain behind, continuing their trek toward the White Sphinx. When night falls, they stop; the Traveller builds a fire. The Traveller is conscious of Morlocks in hiding, watching them. Weena is fascinated by the fire; the Traveller must keep her from harming herself in it. The Morlocks close in, and the Traveller lights a match to keep them away. Weena faints. The Traveller picks her up to carry her, but then loses his sense of direction. He stops where he is and builds another fire. He is unable to revive Weena. He accidentally falls asleep, only to awake in darkness, the Morlocks grasping at him. They have taken his matches. The Morlocks attack him. The Traveller defends himself with his iron bar. The Morlocks only flee when the Traveller’s earlier fire grows, setting the forest ablaze. When they leave, however, they take Weena with them. Other Morlocks are quite helpless in the fire, blinded by its light, unable to escape its destruction. The Traveller spends the night fending off Morlocks, watching them stumble about in flames. In the morning, walking among the ashes of the forest fire, the Traveller discovers some few loose matches still in his pocket.


Analysis: This chapter seems to represent the nadir of our protagonist’s “descent into the darkness”—ironic, because its action takes place on the surface world! Yet the Travellers’ language—for example, the sight of the blinded Morlocks in the fire as “the most weird and horrible thing… of all that I beheld in that future age” (p. 70); or his description of his awful vigil as “a nightmare. I bit myself and screamed in a passionate desire to awake” (p. 70)—as well as the hell-like imagery of consuming fire leave little doubt that the Traveller’s experience is a true low point in his journey, culminating, as he believes, in Weena’s death: “It seemed an overwhelming calamity” (p. 71). This chapter also serves to heighten the contrast between the Eloi and the Morlocks in showing us Weena’s delighted reaction to the fire and the Morlocks’ initial avoidance of and ultimate inability to escape it. Whereas Weena wants “to run to [the fire] and play with it” (p. 66), the Morlocks flee from it—the Traveller’s camphor “split and flared up and drove back the Morlocks and the shadows” (p. 67). Note the casual equation, in the latter quote, of the Morlocks with shadows, with darkness; when placed amidst the context of other similar comments—e.g., the Traveller calls the Morlocks “human rats” (p. 69)—we can see that the text is trading upon traditional notions of light being good and dark being evil. Readers looking for scriptural allusion may think of the text from the Gospel of John: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:19-21, KJV). The conflagration in which the Morlocks find themselves ensnared, therefore, could be read (by traditional sensibilities such as those the Traveller shares with his Victorian audience) as the fate the Morlocks, as darkness-loving evil-doers, deserve. On the other hand, Wells himself may have meant for this chapter’s utilization of light and dark imagery to be taken ironically—for why does this fire erupt upon the surface in the first place? Only through the intervention of the Traveller! It is not proper to the world of the future in and of itself; as the Traveller himself notes in a scientific aside, “I don’t know if you have ever thought what a rare thing flame must be in the absence of man and in a temperate climate” (p. 66). Who, then, emerges as the real intruder into the edenic world of the Eloi? The Morlocks—or the Traveller, who does not belong to that society; who, like Prometheus of ancient Greek myth, is a fire-bringer—a symbol of knowledge, yes, but also an opportunity for devastation (of the forest, of the Morlocks) and death?