The Time Machine

The Time Machine. By H.G. Wells. 139 pages.

The Time Machine is a science fiction classic speculating about the evolutionary future of humanity. It is not the first novel of time travel - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court appeared a few years before - but it is the first to explicitly invent the technology of time travel. The prose is dense but still readable, and it lives up to its status as a sci-fi classic.


The novel begins as a frame story. A man only named “The Time Traveller” hosts a weekly dinner with other Victorian intellectuals. He introduces a concept of a fourth dimension, time, and says that he has invented a machine that allows people to travel into the past as well as the future. The next week, he appears at the dinner disheveled. He tells a fantastic story about how he traveled 800,000 years into the future.

In the future, he encounters humans that are childlike in stature and innocent. They appear to have no industry and live in a Garden of Eden, eating readily available fruit and living in communal houses. The only thing that is odd is that they fear the night, especially moonless nights. He dubs these people the “Eloi”. He also rescues a woman from drowning when her fellow Eloi do not bother to help her. He finds her name is Weena, and she becomes his constant companion. 

Unfortunately, he finds the time machine has disappeared and is forced to try and find who has taken it and where. As he explores, he notices there is no sign of death or disease among the Eloi, but he observes some ape-like creatures taking an Eloi body underground. Surmising that the ape-like creatures have taken the machine, he explores the underground caverns and discovers the creatures, which he names “Morlocks”, are farming the Eloi and eating them.

He later discovers the remains of a museum, where he and Weena confront the Morlocks. Weena dies in the battle, taken by the Morlocks, but he recovers the time machine and leaves the future. He returns to the present to tell his story, which is not believed by his dinner guests. The Time Traveler and the machine disappear a week later, and the narrator mentions he has not seen him since. 



Upon discovering Eloi society, the Time Traveler initially thinks that communism has been achieved. There are no class distinctions between the Eloi, all of their basic needs are met, and they spend their time playing rather than working. The Eloi don’t build anything; they depend on the Morlocks for everything. It’s an interesting choice that Wells, a socialist, depicts a possible communist future where people are literally sheep to be farmed and eaten. 

Evolution and Class Struggle

Upon discovering the truth that the Eloi are farmed by the Morlocks for protein, the time traveller surmises that something else has happened: that humanity has evolved into two races: the Eloi from the capitalists, and the Morlocks from the laborers. The Time Traveller thinks that the capitalists forced the laborers underground to operate the machines to give them a life of ease.

thousands of generations ago, man had thrust his brother man out of the ease and the sunshine. And now that brother was coming back changed!

But over time, their Eden cost them their defenses and fear of predation. Meanwhile, the laborers adjusted to life underground, developing sensitive eyes, stooping to fit in the tunnels, and started preying on the Eloi.

Man had been content to live in ease and delight upon the labors of his fellow-man, had taken Necessity as his watchword and excuse, and in the fullness of time Necessity had come home to him!

To Wells, the lesson is that by mistreating the lower classes, the capitalists sowed the seeds of their own destruction. Without any hardship, they became soft and easy prey for the Morlocks. But it is interesting the Morlocks farm the Eloi in pleasant conditions, rather than locking them in cages underground. It is quite different from the way modern humans raise livestock, which could be described as torture. Even if the Morlocks have evolved into something unrecognizable, they still have sympathy for their cousins.


The Time Traveler is as judgmental as only a Victorian gentleman scientist can be, and is critical of the Eloi for having no interest in arts or technology. They only live for simple pleasures. Nor does he think much of the Morlocks, who he describes as uncivilized brutes despite having sophisticated technology. We don’t see much of their society, so its hard to know if the Time Traveller is simply making assumptions about them, or they really do lack pursuits beyond survival. However, I think if Wells wanted to portray the Morlocks as sophisticated, he would portray them trying to maintain the museum or at least be interested in it.

The Time Traveller thinks that the lack of hardship leads to a softening of the mind over time. As the Eloi grew fat and dumb, they lost the faculties that drive us to create great art and literature. This contrasts to modern leftism, which assumes technology will eliminate hardship and give us more time for higher pursuits. I don’t think Wells’ interpretation of evolution is correct here. Evolution eliminates unneeded traits because they cost energy in environments where it is scarce, but the Eloi don’t live in an environment of scarcity. So there’s no selective pressure to make them dumb. Science seems to be incredibly mixed on whether or not domestication makes animals dumber.. If Wells is trying to warn us against a life of ease, it’s hard to see how such a fate can be avoided. Technology is only going to eliminate more and more hardships from life, and good luck trying to get people to purposely live worse lives.

I think that picking a date 800,000 years into the future is what makes The Time Machine a true classic. If Wells’ Time Traveller had merely visited the near-future, the book would have quickly felt dated. Instead of a future full of wonder, we are reminded that all things must come to an end, including humans, and that our time is a mere blip in the billions of years of natural history. It’s a creative choice that very few other stories of time travel examine. I think the book is worth picking up, and more sci-fi authors should consider the future of human evolution - there’s plenty of ideas to be mined there.

<< Previous Next >>