The Time Machine: Top Ten Quotes

I think that at that time none of us quite believed in the Time Machine. The fact is, the Time Traveller was one of those men who are too clever to be believed: you never felt that you saw all around him; you always suspected some subtle reserve, some ingenuity in ambush, behind his lucid frankness (Ch. 2, p. 11). —Our narrator’s words raise the question of the reliability of the Time Traveller as a narrator. The Traveller, as a proxy for Wells, asks his audience to willingly suspend their disbelief in order to hear, in his narrative of the far future, a message for their own day.

[So] with a kind of madness growing upon me, I flung myself into futurity… What strange developments of humanity, what wonderful advances upon our rudimentary civilisation, I thought, might not appear when I came to look nearly into the dim elusive world that raced and fluctuated before my eyes! I saw great and splendid architecture rising about me, more massive than any buildings of our own time, and yet, as it seemed, built of glimmer and mist (Ch. 3, p. 19).—The Traveller describes his journey to the world of A.D. 802,701. His words suggest two important themes of the novel: (1) his initial belief in the inevitable progress of humanity, a belief that will be shattered by book’s end; and (2) the theme of the transitory nature of all human accomplishment and, indeed, of existence itself (sic transit gloria mundi).

What if… the race had lost its manliness, and had developed into something inhuman, unsympathetic, and overwhelmingly powerful? (Ch. 3, p. 21)—The Traveller’s concerns about future humanity prove to be well-grounded. His fears anticipate his discovery that humanity has split into two races, the Eloi and the Morlock; and the relationship between the two can indeed be characterized as “inhuman,” for they exist in an unhealthy, parasitic state. The Eloi exist in an idyllic, “above ground” life at the expense of the subterranean Morlocks, who are now beginning to revolt against their condition. Even the Traveller, we will see, is not immune to thinking of the Morlock as sub-human.

To adorn themselves with flowers, to dance, to sing in the sunlight; so much was left of the artistic spirit, and no more. Even that would fade in the end into a contented inactivity. 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! (Ch. 4, p. 31)—The Traveller’s reflections indicate the extent to which Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection influenced Wells’ story. The “grindstone of pain and necessity” refers to the “struggle for existence” posited by Darwin, a struggle inevitably awarded, through the generations, to “the fittest.” In the Eloi, however, the Traveller witnesses the shadow side of that victory: the fit who survive have become unfit through lack of adversity and challenge. This weakness leaves them open to Morlock attack; more important thematically, it reduces the Eloi, too, to something less than truly human (as the Traveller understands the human condition).

Conceive the tale of London which a negro, fresh from Central Africa, would take back to his tribe! What would he know of railway companies, of social movements, of telephone and telegraph wires, of the Parcels Delivery Company, and postal orders and the like? (Ch. 5, p. 38)—The Traveller conveys the difficulty he finds in articulating his experience of the future by drawing an analogy those of his own era would appreciate. This idea of a radical shift in perspective on (and thereby radical revision of) one’s own status is a recurring favorite in Wells’ scientific romances.

But, gradually, the truth dawned on me: that Man had not remained one species, but had differentiated into two distinct animals: that my graceful children of the Upper World were not the sole descendants of our generation, but that this bleached, obscene, nocturnal Thing, which had flashed before me, was also heir to all the ages (Ch. 5, p. 44)—These words signify the all-important moment of revelation when the Traveller first fully appreciates the state in which future humanity finds itself—a dramatic consequence of Darwinian natural selection. The Traveller will then proceed to apply the lesson he learned in the future to his own society in a display of “social Darwinism,” stating that the division between the poor and affluent in Victorian society could lead to the state of affairs he found in A.D. 802, 701 (see the following quotation).

The great triumph of Humanity I had dreamed of took a different shape in my mind. It had been no such triumph of moral education and general co-operation as I had imagined. Instead, I saw a real aristocracy, armed with a perfected science and working to a logical conclusion the industrial system of today. Its triumph had not been simply a triumph over nature, but a triumph over nature and the fellow-man (Ch. 5, p. 47).—The Traveller expounds a near-prophetic warning of the dangers inherent in his own Industrial Revolution society. Such a society, his words infer, will become “mechanical” in more than the literal since: its arrangement of an exploited labor class and an affluent capitalist class will dehumanize the race itself.

[T]here was an altogether new element in the sickening quality of the Morlocks—a something inhuman and malign. Instinctively I loathed them… I felt like a beast in a trap, whose enemy would come upon him soon (Ch. 7, p. 53).—The Traveller succumbs to thinking of the Morlocks as less than human—another danger inherent, his narrative suggests, in Industrial Revolution society.

No. I cannot expect you to believe it. Take it as a lie—or a prophecy. Say I dreamed it up in the workshop. Consider I have been speculating upon the destinies of our race until I have hatched this fiction. Treat my assertion of its truth as a mere stroke of art to enhance its interest. And, taking it as a story, what do you think of it? (Ch. 12, p. 81)—The Traveller, having returned to his own day, calls upon his audience (no less than the novel’s readers) to choose whether to believe his story. Their choice will, implicitly, dictate whether they apply any of his warnings about the fate of future humanity to the ills of their own, early industrial age. The words call attention to the power of narratives: which narratives do we choose to believe; why; and how do they shape our present and our future?

And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers… to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man (Epilogue, p. 85).—Our narrator, unlike the Traveller himself, retains some hope for the future advancement of humanity based on Weena’s free, affectionate gift of flowers. These last lines of the novel enable Wells to end his story in a positive (albeit somewhat ambiguously so, given the flowers’ withered state) tone.