Class Struggle and Socialism in The Time Machine

Black and white scribble art depicting a hand holding a calligraphy pen, scratching on a sheet of paper. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/735634920356474407/

by Ashley Lucio

H.G. Wells, a well-known socialist with strong views on capitalism and class, claimed “the abolition of ‘inheritance and property other than an individual’s own work was the entire object of the new and enlightened order of Socialists.  Wells reiterated his faith in meritocratic versions of democratic socialism for decades,” (Collinge) through his novels, short stories and social commentary.  The Time Machine was written in 1895, during the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom and Wells strongly opposed the growth of capitalism and rising social class conflicts. He utilizes this novel to express his discontent with social class and democracy, curiosity towards the future for mankind, and his strong support for socialism.  

Although controversial, Wells critiques social division and conflict through the characters he creates, but many argue he inadvertently creates highly privileged characters that express his own class status.  Critics “have read his birth into the lower-middle class and elevation by his university education and writing career as contributing to the ‘unprocessed class confusion’ of his work,” (Collinge) and have pointed out that … “Wells casts his protagonists exclusively as Englishmen within a controlling and intellectual middle-class elite.” (Collinge), which is seen in the protagonist of the novel.   The time traveler, our protagonist, is a member of the British elite, his propriety is very proper, and he consistently displays “appropriate” masculine characteristics throughout the novel.  On the other hand, however, according to the other characters in the novel, the time traveler exuded a sense of pretentiousness – “The time traveler was one of those men who are too clever to be believed…you always suspected some subtle reserve, some ingenuity in ambush, behind his lucid frankness.” (Wells, 15).  

Through the time traveler, Wells is able to express his own views on society and the future of mankind.  “To me, the future is still blank and blank – is a vast ignorance…I have by me, for my own 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.” (Wells,110).  Wells, who was educated in evolutionary theory, believed in Natural Selection.  He created the time traveler to represent an outside observer to the impending doom that is the evolution of mankind.  

Wells creates the antimimetic world of the year 802, 701 and through his characters, creatively creates a world where he can comment on the evolution, not only of humans, but of class struggles as well.  He uses imagery to create a vivid and colorful world where there were “great palaces dotted about among the variegated greenery, some in ruins and some still occupied….and “a tangled waste of beautiful bushes and flowers, a long neglected and yet weedless garden. I saw a number of tall spikes of strange white flowers, measuring a foot perhaps across the spread of the waxen petals,” (Wells, 40). Interestingly, by describing the messy state of the bushes, Wells gives the audience insight into the laziness and lightheartedness of the Elois.  According to Bakhtin, “the chronotope of a given novelistic genre corresponds closely to a real-world chronotope that prevailed when the genre first emerged” (Lawson, 389).  The Time Machine was written in 1895 Britain when the Industrial Revolution was emerging, and technology was a new frontier and social class systems were being highly critiqued.  This is definitely reflected in the novel through the Eloi and the Morlocks relationship as well as the dwelling places and diets of each.  The Eloi, “perhaps four feet high…legs and head were bare…a very beautiful and graceful creature, but indescribably frail,” (Wells, 31), represent the aristocratic elite, who have progressed into lazy, helpless creatures who live a communistic lifestyle according to the time traveler.  They represent “aristocracy in decay’” (Collinge), that still depended on the underworld creatures to assemble their clothes and perform other tasks.  It is as though they have become accustomed to being useless, they are now content with living together in deteriorating buildings with no real purpose in life.  

The Morlochs, on the other hand, are “a small white, moving creature, with large bright eyes…like a human spider,” (Wells, 74) that represent the over-worked, working class that have developed into underground, tunnel dwellers that hunt the Eloi.  “Due to their sickly and stereotypically savage appearance, the industrial work that they perform and the underworld that they inhabit, the Morlocks evoke late-Victorian stereotypes of the working classes,” (Collinge).  Wells, highly critical of capitalism, implies this to be the natural process of the class struggles caused by capitalistic societies.  He used the Morlochs to create a “prophetic warning of the decline of the human race and this “devolution” is the apparently direct result of the class divisiveness of Wells’s contemporary social situation.” (Hollinger, 202)

Since the beginning of time, humans have been curious about the evolution of mankind and our destination as a species.  Wells is no different, and it is visible throughout the novel.  The plot provides readers with the ability to escape reality and wrestle between the thought that humans may eventually evolve into non-human creatures and our very existence as brave, intellectual, motivated beings will cease to exist.  Miller states that we need stories over and over to satisfy a need we as a species have and the fabulas of time travel and the fate of mankind, as well as the validity of evolution have all been topics that have plagued mankind since the beginning of time and are all touched on within the novel.  

Through the writing of The Time Machine, Wells “attempts at once to displace a smug humanity from its privileged position at the center creation and to remind us of our ineluctable ties to the natural world,” (Hollinger, 203). He breaks the natural laws of time and space to create a novel that provides the reader with an artistic representation of the class struggles during his the late 1800s but his evolutionary take on the future of mankind itself.  “His ability to return to this present is never in question…this “inevitable drift” of the stars is both a fact of Wells’s narrative universe and a resolutely spatial metaphor for the fixed structure of time.” (Hollinger, 207)

Works Cited

Collinge, James T. “‘With Envious Eyes’: Rabbit-Poaching and Class Conflict in H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau.” Literature & History, vol. 26, no. 1, 2017, pp. 39–55. Crossref, doi:10.1177/0306197317695082. 

Firchow, Peter. “H.G. Wells’s Time Machien: In Search of Time Future-and Time Past.” Midwest Quarterly: A journal of Contemporary Thought,  vol. 45, no. 2, 2004, pp. 123-136. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com.blume.stmarytx.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2004530193&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Hollinger, Veronica. “Deconstructing the Time Machine.” Science Fiction Studies, vol.14, no. 2, July 1987, pp.201-221. EBSCOhost, http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.blume.stmarytx.edu:2048/eds/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=8658c95f-b463-4aa2-8c46-b9d8727bb737%40sessionmgr4008&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=23548103&db=lfh

Hovanec, Caroline. “Rereading H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine: Empiricism, Aestheticism,
Modernism.” English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, vol. 58, no. 4, 2015, pp.459-485. EBSCOhost, http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.blume.stmarytx.edu:2048/eds/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=0b6fe3a8-0392-4bee-aa72-9587b19f4292%40sdc-v-sessmgr03&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=2015582337&db=mzh

Lawson, James. “Chronotope, Story, and Historical Geography: Mikhail Bakhtin and the Space-Time of Narratives.” Antipode, vol. 43, no. 2, 2011, pp. 384-412., doi:10.1111/j.1467-8330.2010.00853.x.

Stiles, Anne. “Literature in Mind: H. G. Wells and the Evolution of the Mad Scientist.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 70, no. 2, Apr. 2009, pp.317-339. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/jhi.0.0033 

Wells, H. G., 1895. The Time Machine. S.D.E. Classics.

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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