The Time Machine

By H G Wells

Sample Questions

1. "Very inhuman, you may think, to want to go killing one's own descendants!" remarks the Time Traveller of his blood-lust for the Morlocks. Why might this statement not seem to ring true? How might the Time Traveller's own identity be reflected his behaviour towards his descendants?

The Time Traveller reveals that he "longed very much to kill a Morlock or so... it was impossible, somehow, to feel any humanity in the things." Obviously over eight hundred thousand or so years, questions of direct ancestry are unlikely to be relevant, but given his description of how the Eloi and Morlock are likely to have diverged as species, his upper-class nature would seem to put him as an ancestor of the Eloi. He also clearly most closely identifies himself with the Eloi. Indeed, when he wants to kill the Morlocks at the Palace of Green Porcelain, "Only my disinclination to leave Weena, and a persuasion that if I began to slake my thirst for murder my Time Machine might suffer, restrained me from going straight down the gallery and killing the brutes I heard."

As for the Eloi, despite their apparent stupidity and indolence, "there was something in these pretty little people that inspired confidence - a graceful gentleness, a certain childlike ease." And Weena in particular "always seemed to me, I fancy, more human that she was, perhaps because her affection was so human." Despite the face that "the Time Traveller hated to have servants waiting at dinner", does he show any signs of identifying with the previously subjugated race of the Morlocks? And how does his identification with the Eloi colour his view of the Morlocks? See for example: "I felt a peculiar shrinking from those pallid bodies. They were just the half-bleached colour of the worms and things one sees preserved in spirit in a zoological museum. And they were filthily cold to the touch. Probably my shrinking was largely due to the sympathetic influence of the Eloi, whose disgust of the Morlocks I now began to appreciate."

Compare the ways he describes the evolutionary fate of the Eloi and Morlocks. The Eloi are never worse than decadent: "I even tried a Carlyle-like scorn of this wretched aristocracy in decay. But this attitude of mind was impossible. However great their intellectual degradation, the Eloi had kept too much of the human form not to claim my sympathy, and had to make me perforce a sharer in their degradation and their fear." The Morlocks, however, are subhuman, "ape-like". The Time Traveller comments that, "You can scarce imagine how nauseatingly inhuman they looked - those pale, chinless faces and great, lidless, pinkish-grey eyes!" and elsewhere they are "human rats". Incidentally, Thomas Carlyle was a social critic of the nineteenth century who was deeply critical of the conditions of the British working classes, and the decadence of aristocracy. He was, however, notable for his fear and hatred of democracy and praise of feudal society.

When the Time Traveller first emerges into the future, he imagines that to the future- men he is yet to meet, "I might seem some old-world savage animal, only the more dreadful and disgusting for our common likeness - a foul creature to be incontinently slain." Does he in effect turn this speculation on its head? Examine the often gratuitous violence the Time Traveller displays towards the Morlocks: "I could feel the succulent giving of flesh and bone under my blows... The strange exultation that so often seems to accompany hard fighting came upon me... [I was] determined to make the Morlocks pay for their meat." What might Wells be saying about the relationship between someone of the Time Traveller's social status and the working classes in his own time? On one occasion the Time Traveller stops attacking the Morlocks out of sympathy: "At first I did not realize their blindness, and struck furiously at them with my bar, in a frenzy of fear, as they approached me, killing one and crippling several more. But when I had watched the gestures of one of them groping under the hawthorn against the red sky, and heard their moans, I was assured of their absolute helplessness and misery in the glare, and I struck no more of them." How does this incident affect his ultimate attitude towards the two races of future- man?

Also, consider how the Time Traveller attempts to reconcile himself with the Morlocks' cannibalism? Does he effectively convince himself? How does Weena's death affect this?

2. Discuss the ways in which The Time Machine can be seen to reflect H.G. Wells' atheism.

It was Wells' great influence, T.H. Huxley, who coined the phrase 'agnostic' (literally referring to an inability to know whether or not God exists), but Wells seemed more certain about matters. He claims to have been "born blaspheming," and fully embraced his atheism at age fifteen as "the last rack of a peevish son-crucifying Deity dissolved away into blue sky" (Experiments in Autobiography, 1934).

Whilst The Time Machine is not a direct attack on belief in a God, to what extent is God conspicuous by his absence? A contemporary review made this the very basis of its criticism of the book, saying that the book should only be read 'because it will draw attention to the great moral and religious factors in human nature which he [Wells] appears to ignore.' Whilst Christianity reserves the fate of man for the final judgement of God, The Time Machine leaves him for the ravages of evolution until he has evolved through brute or herbivore to extinction. To what extent might religious opposition to the book be connected to the greater debate surrounding Darwinism? Moreover, The Time Traveller makes no direct reference to God or Religion within the book, nor do his sceptical audience. The closest Wells comes is the religious reference in the naming of the Eloi and the Morlock. Why might Wells be using religious references for the names of future-man?

Examine the Narrator's Epilogue. He reveals that the Time Traveller "thought but cheerlessly of the Advancement of Mankind, and saw in the growing pile of civilisation only a foolish heaping that must inevitably fall back upon and destroy its makers in the end. If that is so, it remains for us to live as though it were not so." A humanist conclusion?