The Time Machine Theme of Society and Class
The Time Machine presents two very different settings – the 1890s and the distant future – and seems to dare us to make connections between them. When the Time Traveller jumps into the far future, he finds a society where the Eloi play all day and don't do any work. It's almost like an episode of Gossip Girl, where (almost) everyone is pretty and rich. In other words, it looks much better than the Time Traveller's own time, which is full of conflict and anxiety over the issue of class – who has to do work and who gets to profit from the work of others. (This is a big issue in the 19th century; check out "Setting" for more on this.)
However, the future stops looking good to the Time Traveller when he realizes that the class conflict and class structure of his time have merely evolved rather than being erased. Although some aspects of social class have changed, there are many similarities that should make us sit up and take notice. (For instance, in both cases, the working class tends to be invisible or hard to find.) So while the future might look like an exaggeration of the 19th century (no one is literally eating each other in Britain in the 1890s), the novel is making a suggestion about where humans are heading.
Questions About Society and Class
- What is the Time Traveller's social class? Does his class affect his interpretation of the social situation of the future?
- What do we know from this novel about the lives of the working class in the 19th century and their descendents, the Morlocks, in the future? By comparison, what do we know about the 19th-century upper class and their descendents, the Eloi?
- Besides class, what other ways are societies divided up in the real world today? Are those divisions present in this book?
- If the Time Traveller is correct about the evolution of the Eloi and Morlocks, how did these two species come about? For instance, how did one set of people exile another set of people underground? Is there any evidence in the novel of that going on in the 1890s?
Chew on This
The Time Traveller spends most of his time working through the evolution of social class because that's the theme his readers would be most interested in.
Even though The Time Machine tells a story about working-class oppression, it makes us identify more with the upper class: the Time Traveller and the Eloi.