Study Guide

The Time Machine Quotes

  • Science

    Chapter 1
    The Dinner Guests

    "It sounds plausible enough to-night," said the Medical Man; "but wait until to-morrow. Wait for the commonsense of the morning." (1.73)

    Once again, the characters in <em>The Time Machine</em> set up an opposition: on one side is some amazing scientific discovery; on the other side is common sense, ideas that are "almost universally accepted." The Medical Man is not outright dismissing science here, but he is telling us to be cautious. What's curious about that is that the Medical Man is also in a scientific profession (more so than the Provincial Mayor, at least). So maybe his caution is merely scientific skepticism rather than a disbelief in science. Which do you think it is?

    The Time Traveller

    "I shall have to controvert one or two ideas that are almost universally accepted." (1.2)

    The Time Traveller starts his discussion by noting that everyone else is wrong. This is kind of snotty on one hand, but on the other hand it's sometimes helpful to ask if something is true or only seems true. (For another example of this, think of Copernicus and his argument that the earth revolves around the sun, even though everyone else thought it was the other way around.)

    Chapter 3

    The unpleasant sensations of the start were less poignant now. They merged at last into a kind of hysterical exhilaration. [...] so with a kind of madness growing upon me, I flung myself into futurity. (3.5)

    Many people think of science as not involving feelings, and they may be mostly right. But check out the Time Traveller: he often describes himself as someone with a great deal of feeling. (Check out "Themes: Fear" for more of that.) In this passage his feelings don't seem in opposition to his scientific experiment – the feelings are part of it. (Which makes some sense: he wouldn't be doing experiments with time travel if he weren't passionate about the subject.)

    Chapter 4

    As I stood there in the gathering dark I thought that in this simple explanation I had mastered the problem of the world – mastered the whole secret of these delicious people. [...] Very simple was my explanation, and plausible enough – as most wrong theories are! (4.32)

    The Time Traveller says something like this a few times (check 4.20 for another). Rather than make him look foolish, we think this actually shows him to be a good scientist. To do science right, you've got to be cool with being wrong once in a while. In fact, being wrong may help you find your way to the right answer. Here the Time Traveller is showing us how science is done.

    Chapter 5

    But my mind was already in revolution; my guesses and impressions were slipping and sliding to a new adjustment. [...] And very vaguely there came a suggestion towards the solution of the economic problem that had puzzled me. (5.35)

    A large part of the book is the Time Traveller's attempt to puzzle out what the future is like. In many Hollywood disaster movies, a scientist will come on just to give an answer. <em>The Time Machine</em> isn't just interested in the answer, but also in the process of coming up with it. So we get a lot of sequences, like this one, where the Time Traveller is thinking and groping his way toward the truth.

    . . . I discovered, from the flaring of my matches, that a steady current of air set down the shafts. Further, I threw a scrap of paper into the throat of one, and, instead of fluttering slowly down, it was at once sucked swiftly out of sight. (5.16)

    The Time Traveller doesn't do a lot of what we would consider experimenting in the future, but here he does, in order to determine whether the wells are sucking air down.

    The Time Traveller

    "Face this world. Learn its ways, watch it, be careful of too hasty guesses at its meaning. In the end you will find clues to it all." (5.14)

    Here the Time Traveller is reminding himself to think through things scientifically – to collect data and then come up with a theory. (Sherlock Holmes has a famous line about this: "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.")  Even the Time Traveller, who is a pretty good scientist most of the time, needs to remind himself that this is how a scientist acts. In other words, science is hard work – it doesn't come naturally.

    Chapter 6

    Presently the walls fell away from me, and I came to a large open space, and striking another match, saw that I had entered a vast arched cavern, which stretched into utter darkness beyond the range of my light. The view I had of it was as much as one could see in the burning of a match. (6.8)

    Wells wrote an essay in which he compares science to a match. Here we see that comparison being made into a part of the narrative: no matter how much the Time Traveller figures out, there always seems to be something more that he can't see.

    Chapter 7

    I tried to look at the thing in a scientific spirit. [..] And there was Weena dancing at my side! (7.14)

    Here the Time Traveller is wrestling with his realization that the Morlocks eat the Eloi. From a scientific point of view, that's the end of the story: animals eat other animals, and that's the way it is. But the Time Traveller has some difficulty with that notion. He's trying to be scientific and not be bothered by the idea that Weena is going to be eaten, but he <em>is</em> bothered by it. This is another scene where we see how hard it is to suppress one's emotions in the pursuit of science. It's like when you watch a nature show: one episode will be about the deer and you root for the deer, and the next episode will be about wolves and you root for the wolves. The scientific point of view would be not to root for either side, but rather to see both sides as part of the same system.

    Chapter 10

    I was surprised to find it had been carefully oiled and cleaned. I have suspected since that the Morlocks had even partially taken it to pieces while trying in their dim way to grasp its purpose. (10.10)

    Up until this point, the Time Traveller had assumed the Morlocks weren't much smarter than the Eloi. But the Morlocks tried to understand his machine. Are they smarter than he thought they were? Do the Morlocks have science? Or do they just understand machines but not the science behind them?

  • Change

    Chapter 1
    The Time Traveller

    "For instance, here is a portrait of a man at eight years old, another at fifteen, another at seventeen, another at twenty-three, and so on. All these are evidently sections, as it were, Three-Dimensional representations of his Four-Dimensioned being, which is a fixed and unalterable thing." (1.17)

    While we think of change relying on things being temporary, here the Time Traveller is trying to convince us of exactly the opposite: that a four-dimensional being is "a fixed and unalterable thing." In other words, a man doesn't really change as he gets older – he just becomes what he always was going to become. (So what we see when we look at him is only a temporary layer on top of his permanent self.)

    Chapter 3

    I noticed for the first time how warm the air was. (3.13)

    This is such a small change that it's easy to miss, and might not seem so meaningful to us. So it's warm – that's not really newsworthy, is it? Well, it kind of is: the Time Traveller is dealing with a future where the basic facts of life – like the weather near London – have totally changed. And they will continue to change, so that by the last chapters, the air has become cold and rarified.

    What if cruelty had grown into a common passion? What if in this interval the race had lost its manliness, and had developed into something inhuman, unsympathetic, and overwhelmingly powerful? (3.10)

    For the second-time reader, there's irony here, since we know the Time Traveller is going to find exactly the opposite – that people in the future have become overwhelmingly weak. But no matter how people change, here the Time Traveller starts the ball rolling on what will be a major issue with his adventure: time changes all things, and there's no guarantee that the descendants of humanity will still be recognizably human.

    Chapter 4

    The work of ameliorating the conditions of life – the true civilizing process that makes life more and more secure – had gone steadily on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over Nature had followed another. Things that are now mere dreams had become projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward. And the harvest was what I saw! (4.24)

    Confronted with the Eloi, the Time Traveller starts thinking that some changes that seem positive might have negative repercussions. (And this is <em>before</em> he's even met the Morlocks.) In this vision of the world, there seems to be a "climax" after which we can only go downhill. In this way, Wells separates out the idea of progress (which people in the 19th century really believed in) from the idea of change. Not all change is progress, he is saying.

    I saw mankind housed in splendid shelters, gloriously clothed, and as yet I had found them engaged in no toil. There were no signs of struggle, neither social nor economical struggle. The shop, the advertisement, traffic, all that commerce which constitutes the body of our world, was gone. (4.27)

    With his interest in social class and economic problems, the Time Traveller notes their absence as a major change. But there are still similarities: people still need shelter and clothes (so it must not be <em>that</em> warm), and it still rains.

    Humanity had been strong, energetic, and intelligent, and had used all its abundant vitality to alter the conditions under which it lived. And now came the reaction of the altered conditions. (4.29)

    In <em>The Time Machine</em>, Time can't be turned off – change still goes on, even if you don't want it to. People made deliberate changes to the world and got very comfortable – and now they are evolving in response to the changes they made.

    Seeing the ease and security in which these people were living, I felt that this close resemblance of the sexes was after all what one would expect [...]. We see some beginnings of this even in our own time, and in this future age it was complete. (4.20)

    The Time Traveller not only sees similarities between his time and the future (like the flowers above); he also likes to make connections between the way things have turned out and the direction they were heading in his own time. Most of the changes the Time Traveller sees are extrapolations of trends Wells observed in his own day.

    At first things were very confusing. Everything was so entirely different from the world I had known – even the flowers. (4.15)

    Although the world is confusing and different, is it "entirely" different? In some cases, the differences are easier to spot because of the similarities. For instance, even though the Time Traveller sees that flowers have changed, they're still recognizable as flowers.

    Chapter 7

    The Upper-world people might once have been the favoured aristocracy, and the Morlocks their mechanical servants: but that had long since passed away. The two species that had resulted from the evolution of man were sliding down towards, or had already arrived at, an altogether new relationship. (7.2)

    While the Time Traveller gets to see snapshots of the world at certain points of time, he recognizes that time is an ongoing thing, and that change will continue to occur.

    Chapter 11

    As I drove on, a peculiar change crept over the appearance of things. The palpitating greyness grew darker; then – though I was still traveling with prodigious velocity – the blinking succession of day and night, which was usually indicative of a slower pace, returned, and grew more and more marked. This puzzled me very much at first. (11.2)

    Change often causes the Time Traveller to start thinking. At first he sees his older housekeeper zoom across the room and the days speed up. Now he's noticing that the sped-up days are starting to slow down again.

  • Awe and Amazement

    Chapter 1
    The Dinner Guests

     "Look here," said the Medical Man, "are you perfectly serious? Or is this a trick – like that ghost you showed us last Christmas?" (1.75)

    The flip side of amazement is skepticism. Something that's "incredible" is too amazing to be believed. Since the Time Traveller's story is incredible, it should be no surprise that he encounters this sort of skepticism.

    Chapter 2
    The Dinner Guests

    And the door opened wider, and the Time Traveller stood before us. I gave a cry of surprise. "Good heavens! man, what's the matter?" cried the Medical Man, who saw him next. (2.6)

    While there's a lot of amazement in the book over things that are really incredible (the movement of the stars over 800,000 years, for instance), we should also note that there are times when the characters are amazed by things that are easier to explain. Here, for instance, Time Traveller's appearance might have an unusual but normal explanation. (He might've been robbed, for example.)

    Chapter 3

    Mrs. Watchett came in and walked, apparently without seeing me, towards the garden door. I suppose it took her a minute or so to traverse the place, but to me she seemed to shoot across the room like a rocket. (3.2)

    This probably doesn't sound all that amazing to us, since we're used to fast-forwarding and time-lapse photography. To the Time Traveller (and Wells's original readers), though, this scene might have been the first hint of the amazement of time travel. The amazement in the book is gradual and cumulative, moving from the slightly unusual (woman moving fast) to the completely incredible (human evolution into different species). This helps prepare our expectations and keeps us in a state of continual amazement, as each thing that happens is more amazing than the last.

    The whole surface of the earth seemed changed – melting and flowing under my eyes. (3.4)

    The longer description of the earth's evolution is often where the movie versions of the story blow their special effects budget. Instead of seeing a day pass by or even the lifespan of an individual, we get the "lifespan" of hills and mountains and rivers. This is perhaps the first reminder that things look very different when you take the long view. (See "Themes: Time.")

    Chapter 4

    The question had come into my mind abruptly: were these creatures fools? You may hardly understand how it took me. You see I had always anticipated that the people of the year Eight Hundred and Two Thousand odd would be incredibly in front of us in knowledge, art, everything. (4.5)

    Amazement may be caused by some assumption being proven wrong. The Time Traveller is amazed here because he assumed human intelligence would continue to evolve in the future. Perhaps all amazement involves a contrast with what we expect or are familiar with.

    Chapter 7

    Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future. I thought of the great precessional cycle that the pole of the earth describes. Only forty times had that silent revolution occurred during all the years that I had traversed. And during these few revolutions all the activity, all the traditions, the complex organizations, the nations, languages, literatures, aspirations, even the mere memory of Man as I knew him, had been swept out of existence. (7.12)

    This is perhaps the greatest form of amazement: awe over the place of humanity in the cosmos. The whole book has been leading up to this, and it will be emphasized when the Time Traveller goes to the desolate beach far into the future.

    Then I thought of the Great Fear that was between the two species, and for the first time, with a sudden shiver, came the clear knowledge of what the meat I had seen might be. Yet it was too horrible! (7.12)

    Amazement may come with other emotions, like disgust, fear, or horror. Perhaps these other feelings color the sort of reaction people have when they feel amazement. So the dinner guests, amazed by the story, sit around passively, while the Time Traveller, amazed and horrified by his realization, decides to take Weena with him.

    Chapter 11

    I cannot convey the sense of abominable desolation that hung over the world. (11.7)

    The Time Traveller is dealing with completely new experiences – like how it feels to travel through time – and there are things that he simply cannot describe. It's a strange position for a narrator to be in – struck speechless.

    Chapter 12

    The story was so fantastic and incredible, the telling so credible and sober. (12.25)

    Here the unnamed narrator sets out one of the major tensions in the work: how do you tell an amazing story in a believable fashion?

  • Passivity

    Chapter 1

    Our chairs, being his patents, embraced and caressed us rather than submitted to be sat upon, and there was that luxurious after-dinner atmosphere when thought runs gracefully free of the trammels of precision. And he put it to us in this way [...] as we sat and lazily admired his earnestness over this new paradox (as we thought it) and his fecundity. (1.1)

    This all sounds like the 1890s intellectual version of being a couch potato: sitting around after dinner, "lazily" listening to someone else talk. (And those chairs sound awfully comfy. Can't you just picture these guys in Barcaloungers?) This all sounds pretty passive, although we should note that some of the guests do get pretty involved in the argument. This opening sets the tone, though, and the argument mostly shows that the Time Traveller's guests haven't done their homework and don't want to do any heavy thinking.

    Chapter 2

    The Journalist, too, would not believe at any price, and joined the Editor in the easy work of heaping ridicule on the whole thing. (2.12)

    We here at Shmoop like heaping ridicule on things, but we have to admit that making fun of something is often easier than understanding it. (The best is if you can do both at the same time.) So here, as elsewhere, the Journalist and the Editor show themselves to be lazy – they'd rather make bad jokes than work to understand what's going on.

    Chapter 4

    What, unless biological science is a mass of errors, is the cause of human intelligence and vigour? Hardship and freedom: conditions under which the active, strong, and subtle survive and the weaker go to the wall. . . (4.28)

    According to the Time Traveller, the Eloi have become dumb and lazy because they can survive that way. Natural selection no longer weeds out the passive; unlike in the past, you can survive perfectly well without being smart or active.

    I never met people more indolent or more easily fatigued. (4.13)

    The Time Traveller comes out and says that the Eloi are lazy and weak, which is something his story shows in several other ways. (For instance, they can't keep up with him when he walks far [4.21].)

    Under the new conditions of perfect comfort and security, that restless energy, that with us is strength, would become weakness. (4.30)

    Passivity is actually a better trait to have than its opposite according to this theory. While we often think of laziness as a bad thing, it seems there's an argument to be made here that laziness isn't good or bad; rather it either fits the environment or it doesn't. Maybe the 1890s couch potatoes have a fine thing going on there – they certainly seem to fit their environment comfortably.

    Chapter 5

    At last, hot and tired, I sat down to watch the place. But I was too restless to watch long; I am too Occidental for a long vigil. (5.13)

    In Wells's time, the stereotype of the East (the Orient) was that it was slower paced; people could just sit and meditate for hours. By contrast, the people of the West (the Occident) were thought to be more active and restless. So whereas the Time Traveller thinks of the Eloi as lazy, he sees himself as belonging to a group of people who aren't. (We would point out that his Western friends in the 1890s seem like pretty passive guys.)

    Chapter 10

    I understood now what all the beauty of the Over-world people covered. Very pleasant was their day, as pleasant as the day of the cattle in the field. Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same. (10.1)

    Passivity is often thought of as a negative emotion, and sometimes an animal one. (Cows are passive. Sheep are passive. Maybe chickens are passive?) The Time Traveller's comparison of the Eloi to animals reminds us that their passiveness makes them less than human. But aren't some of the dinner guests pretty passive too? What is Wells saying about the future of the elite?

    Chapter 11

    It was a round thing, the size of a football perhaps, [...] and it was hopping fitfully about. (11.12)

    While the novel presents several examples of passivity, there are some hints that maybe there's more activity than the Time Traveller sees. For instance, on the apparently "desolate beach" at the end, the Time Traveller does notice that there's something still living and moving. This may be a lot less life than there was, but it's life nonetheless.

    At last, some time before I stopped, the sun, red and very large, halted motionless upon the horizon, a vast dome glowing with a dull heat, and now and then suffering a momentary extinction. [...] The earth had come to rest with one face to the sun, even as in our own time the moon faces the earth. (11.2)

    Passivity isn't just a personal or a cultural issue in the future; it's also a cosmic one. Here the earth has slowed down in its rotation and eventually stopped turning. Presumably, if he went far enough into the future, the Time Traveller would come to an utterly still, cold universe, where all the stars had died. So, passivity, at its extreme, seems related to death.

    Chapter 12
    The Dinner Guests

    The Editor stood up with a sigh. "What a pity it is you're not a writer of stories!" he said.


    "I'm hanged if it isn't a quarter to one," said the Journalist. "How shall we get home?" (12.16)

    After hearing the Time Traveller's story, the Editor and the Journalist are the first to reject it and the first to bring everyone's attention back to their day-to-day concerns. It's certainly easier to deal with the problem of getting home than the future of the human species. This is mental passivity – these two would rather take the easy way out and avoid any serious, difficult thinking.

  • Technology and Modernization

    Chapter 1

    Our chairs, being his patents, embraced and caressed us rather than submitted to be sat upon. (1.1)

    We tend to focus on the Time Machine as the really important invention in this novel – and let's face it, without it this novel would just be a bunch of guys sitting around, talking about math. But we should also be on the lookout for other technology. Take these chairs, for instance: here's a perfectly good (and brief ) example of technology making people's lives more luxurious.

    The Time Traveller

    "Of course we have no means of staying back for any length of Time, any more than a savage or an animal has of staying six feet above the ground. But a civilized man is better off than the savage in this respect. He can go up against gravitation in a balloon, and why should he not hope that ultimately he may be able to stop or accelerate his drift along the Time-Dimension, or even turn about and travel the other way?" (1.28)

    The Time Traveller's early argument is that technology sets civilized people apart because it changes their capabilities – and thus their relationship to the world around them. (If we look at the argument the other way, we might say that the civilized people aren't much different once they are without technology.)

    Chapter 5

    And here I must admit that I learned very little of drains and bells and modes of conveyance, and the like conveniences, during my time in this real future. In some of these visions of Utopias and coming times which I have read, there is a vast amount of detail about building, and social arrangements, and so forth. But while such details are easy enough to obtain when the whole world is contained in one's imagination, they are altogether inaccessible to a real traveller amid such realities as I found here. [...] I was sensible of much which was unseen, and which contributed to my comfort; but save for a general impression of automatic organization, I fear I can convey very little of the difference to your mind. (5.18)

    Here the Time Traveller nicely reinforces our point about technology: sometimes the really life-changing stuff goes on out of sight. This is either because it literally is out of sight (think of the sewer system, for instance) or because it's become so familiar to us that we don't see or think about it anymore. There's also a nice jab here at the utopian books being written at this time; see "Allusions" for more on that.

    Chapter 6

    I have thought since how particularly ill-equipped I was for such an experience. When I had started with the Time Machine, I had started with the absurd assumption that the men of the Future would certainly be infinitely ahead of ourselves in all their appliances. (6.10)

    The Time Traveller assumes that technology will keep getting better and better. It's like he's never heard of the Dark Ages and doesn't understand that technological advances can be lost. This assumption that technology will keep getting better is very much like the assumption that human life will keep getting better. Wells is teaching the reader that progress isn't a given by showing his protagonist learn that very lesson.

    Chapter 7

    In addition, the heel of one of my shoes was loose, and a nail was working through the sole – they were comfortable old shoes I wore about indoors – so that I was lame. (7.4)

    Here's a technology that we normally don't think of as technology: shoes! Usually we only notice technology like this when (as here) something goes wrong. Again, the Time Traveller is badly prepared for this trip because he doesn't have the right equipment. (Wells actually wrote a pamphlet titled "The Misery of Boots" (which is all about how bad-quality boots make people miserable – and that it doesn't have to be that way.)

    Chapter 8

    The material of the Palace proved on examination to be indeed porcelain, and along the face of it I saw an inscription in some unknown character. I thought, rather foolishly, that Weena might help me to interpret this, but I only learned that the bare idea of writing had never entered her head. (8.2)

    Writing is one of the many technologies that the Eloi have lost. Here again we see how technology becomes noticeable when it fails (neither the Time Traveller nor Weena can read this writing). It's kind of like when we read an older book, like this one, versus a more recent one: when the reading is more difficult, we become more conscious of the work that this sort of technology requires.

    Going towards the side I found what appeared to be sloping shelves, and clearing away the thick dust, I found the old familiar glass cases of our own time. But they must have been air-tight to judge from the fair preservation of some of their contents. (8.3)

    Isn't it strange that the museum of the future looks so much like the museum of the 1890s, with the "old familiar glass cases"? This seems to be an area where Wells thinks the technology peaked in his own day.

    Chapter 9

    I don't know if you have ever thought what a rare thing flame must be in the absence of man and in a temperate climate. [...] The red tongues that went licking up my heap of wood were an altogether new and strange thing to Weena. (9.3)

    Fire is such an important technology in this book that it has its own entry under "Symbolism." But again, notice how technology can be lost, or misused, as when Weena wants to run into the fire.

    I rolled over, and as I did so my hand came against my iron lever. It gave me strength. (9.9)

    The club is a very simple tool – maybe the first tool invented (check out the opening to the movie 2001 for more on that). But even such a basic piece of technology can retain its power for hundreds of thousands of years. Here the iron lever gives the Time Traveller the energy to kick some Morlock butt.

  • Time

    Chapter 1
    The Time Traveller

    "Scientific people [...] know very well that Time is only a kind of Space." (1.18)

    This is the Time Traveller's central argument and the basis for his Time Machine. It's also an example of how we have to re-think time and look at it from a scientific perspective. When the Time Traveller speaks about "time," he's not talking about the day-to-day version that people experience but about a scientific conception of time.

    Chapter 2

    "I say," said the Editor hilariously, "these chaps here say you have been travelling into the middle of next week! Tell us all about little Rosebery, will you?" (2.13)

    There's some argument over who Rosebery is. Whoever it is, we can see that the Time Traveller's perspective on what's important isn't shared by your average Londoner, who is focused more on the day-to-day stuff that doesn't matter in the long run.

    Chapter 7

    Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future. (7.12)

    This quote seems to reinforce the previous one: gosh, aren't we humans small potatoes. But in the previous quote, the Time Traveller noted the similarities that remained, whereas here he seems to be saying that past and future are unknown. That the future is unknown seems like a peculiar thought for someone who has invented a Time Machine. Or is he saying that the future will always remain unknown even with the Time Machine? As in, the future will simply be too complex and weird for people to understand?

    All the old constellations had gone from the sky, however: that slow movement which is imperceptible in a hundred human lifetimes, had long since rearranged them in unfamiliar groupings. But the Milky Way, it seemed to me, was still the same tattered streamer of star-dust as of yore. (7.11)

    Although the Time Traveller sees these changes, he realizes that they go beyond the personal perspective of time. (The Time Traveller may be pretty great, but he doesn't have "a hundred human lifetimes" saved up.) And yet, while this cosmic view goes beyond the personal, the Time Traveller also notes that some things haven't changed, like the Milky Way. Or perhaps that is merely wishful thinking, as he qualifies it with "it seemed to me."

    Chapter 8

    In another place was a vast array of idols – Polynesian, Mexican, Grecian, Phoenician, every country on earth I should think. And here, yielding to an irresistible impulse, I wrote my name upon the nose of a steatite [soapstone] monster from South America that particularly took my fancy. (8.12)

    After thinking about the futility of personal ambition, the Time Traveller seems to give in to that very impulse: he wants to leave some sign that he was there. This is another example of him acting less like a scientist and more like a normal (flawed) human being. Taking the long view is hard!

    The brown and charted rags that hung from the sides of it, I presently recognized as the decaying vestiges of books. They had long since dropped to pieces, and every semblance of print had left them. [...] Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of all ambition. (8.9)

    The "futility of all ambition" is an old theme in literature – check out Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" for a famous example – but here the Time Traveller somewhat turns that idea on its head by showing that all of literature might be futile in the long run. There's further irony here: Wells is writing a novel whose protagonist realizes that literature doesn't matter in the end.

    Chapter 10

    But that perfect state had lacked one thing even for mechanical perfection – absolute permanency. Apparently as time went on, the feeding of the Under-world, however it was effected, had become disjointed. (10.4)

    As <em>The Time Machine</em> notes in a number of ways, "absolute permanency" is harder than it looks. While the system that fed the Morlocks probably looked like a permanent solution to people at the time, the Time Traveller, taking the long view, can see that things keep changing.

    Chapter 11

    So I travelled, stopping ever and again, in great strides of a thousand years or more, drawn on by the mystery of the earth's fate, watching with a strange fascination the sun grow larger and duller in the westward sky, and the life of the old earth ebb away. (11.8)

    The Time Machine makes it easier for the Time Traveller to take the long view of time. (It helps that he's no longer distracted by monsters trying to eat him.) When he was with Weena on the hillside in Chapter 7, the long view was about the stars changing position, which is cool and all, but it doesn't really change most people's lives. But the realization that life on earth will end should hit you where you live, literally. So we could say that the Editor may not be interested in the long view of time, but the long view of time is interested in him.

    Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives – all that was over. (11.11)

    The Time Traveller could be wrong, but this is his final word on the fate of man: everything the 19th-century British person would recognize is gone. Notice how this line compares the cosmic perspective of the desolate beach with the personal perspective of "our lives." Instead of talking about stars moving or the earth dying, the Time Traveller wants us to get the idea of what this cosmic view really means for us: silence.


    But to me the future is still black and blank – is a vast ignorance, lit at a few casual places by the memory of his story. (Epilogue.1)

    The unnamed narrator concludes with this remark about the lesson of the Time Traveller's story, which isn't very much of a lesson at all, but which might be a helpful reminder to us that there's a lot out there that remains unknown. Though the Time Traveller has seen some pretty significant things, there might be much more that he missed. Or maybe – just maybe – taking the long view isn't always that helpful when you have to live in the here and now.

  • Community

    Chapter 1

    Filby tried to tell us about a conjurer he had seen at Burslem; but before he had finished his preface the Time Traveller came back, and Filby's anecdote collapsed. (1.52)

    Practically the same thing happens to the Journalist in Chapter 2: he tells a story but nobody is really listening. Although Filby and the Journalist seem to fit into this social scene more than the Time Traveller, they aren't always listened to closely. And isn't being listened to part of what it means to be in a community? Maybe each of the dinner guests has their own problems with this community, or maybe no community is a perfect fit for everyone in it.

    The Time Traveller

    "You have all heard what they have to say about this Fourth Dimension?"

    "I have not," said the Provincial Mayor. (1.13-4)

    The Time Traveller has a wide range of acquaintances, including people who don't seem like his intellectual equals (at least when it comes to science). What sort of community is possible when not everyone speaks the same language? Rather than a failure of community, could the Time Traveller's dinner parties be seen as an example of its success?  After all, he's imparting his learning and wisdom.

    Chapter 2

    The fact is, the Time Traveller was one of those men who are too clever to be believed [...]. [W]e distrusted him. (2.1)

    The dinner guests may listen to the Time Traveller, but they don't seem to trust him very much. Again, we're forced to wonder what's most important to a community: to be listened to or to be trusted?

    Chapter 4

    Looking round with a sudden thought, from a terrace on which I rested for a while, I realized that there were no small houses to be seen. Apparently the single house, and possibly even the household, had vanished. (4.17)

    There is something curious about the notion of "community" in the future. As the Time Traveller discovers, the family unit no longer seems to exist, nor do cities or suburbs. The Time Traveller could invite friends over for dinner (thus creating community), but the Eloi can't because they all live together already. Does this mean that the Eloi have a tighter community than the Time Traveller? Wait, don't answer that until you've read the next quote.

    Chapter 5

    It will give you an idea, therefore, of the strange deficiency in these creatures, when I tell you that none made the slightest attempt to rescue the weakly crying little thing which was drowning before their eyes. (5.22)

    Even though they all live together, the Eloi do not seem to be the most caring of creatures. Whatever feeling of community they have is not strong enough to overcome their natural passivity.

    For, by merely seeming fond of me, and showing in her weak, futile way that she cared for me, the little doll of a creature presently gave my return to the neighbourhood of the White Sphinx almost the feeling of coming home....(5.24)

    It seems that emotion is just as important to community as intellect – if not more so. Who would you rather hang out with, Weena or one of the Time Traveller's dinner guests? Who do you think you would feel more comfortable around?

    Chapter 6

    Probably my shrinking was largely due to the sympathetic influence of the Eloi, whose disgust of the Morlocks I now began to appreciate. (6.1)

    Feeling is important to a community, and being part of a community can affect your feelings. Simply because he's been hanging around with the Eloi, the Time Traveller has picked up some of their emotions. This might sound strange, but it's not really that uncommon. If you walk into a room with a lot of nervous people, you'll likely find yourself feeling nervous too. Try it.

    Chapter 7

    . . . from the bottom of my heart I pitied this last feeble rill [brook or stream] from the great flood of humanity. [...] And there was Weena dancing at my side! (7.14)

    While the Time Traveller sometimes feels <em>with</em> the Eloi, here he feels <em>for</em> them. They're not self-aware enough to pity themselves (just look at Weena dancing), but the Time Traveller is able to pity them from his outsider's perspective. So here's an example of a feeling that's only possible to someone separate from a community. The poor Time Traveller can never seem to find a community that fits him.

    However great their intellectual degradation, the Eloi had kept too much of the human form not to claim my sympathy, and to make me perforce a sharer in their degradation and their Fear. (7.15)

    Immediately after he pities the Eloi (and thus separates himself from them), the Time Traveller reminds us how close their feelings are. (There are some "Society and Class" issues that might cause him to feel that way.) Again, community involves both closeness and separation. The dinner guests listen to the Time Traveller but don't believe him. The Time Traveller feels fear with the Eloi (as a part of them) but also pities them (as an outsider).


    And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers – shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle – to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man. (Epilogue.1)

    The unnamed narrator gets the final word, which is an optimistic one. In the future, people might not be very bright or industrious, but they'll still have human emotions and sentiments. So it seems like feelings are the most important thing for a community – a rather unexpected conclusion for a science fiction book, perhaps. However, let's remember that the unnamed narrator isn't necessarily right – and he doesn't necessarily speak for Wells. His argument about "mutual tenderness" in the future is undermined by the fact that the other Eloi were ready to let Weena drown. Um, that doesn't sound like "mutual tenderness" to us.

  • Society and Class

    Chapter 2

    . . .the Time Traveller hated to have servants waiting at dinner. . . (2.12)

    We usually start to discuss society and class only when the Time Traveller gets to the future, but there are lots of class issues in 1890s London. This is just one reminder that the Time Traveller has servants, as if he were an Eloi (or at least more closely related to them than to the Morlocks).

    Chapter 4

    . . .where violence comes but rarely and off-spring are secure, there is less necessity – indeed there is no necessity – for an efficient family, and the specialization of the sexes with reference to their children's needs disappears. We see some beginnings of this even in our own time, and in this future age it was complete. (4.20)

    The Time Traveller makes a few comments like that final line – that the society in the future is merely an extension of things in his present. But this quote is important as a reminder that society doesn't just mean social class; there are all sorts of social issues that have to do with gender as well. Here the Time Traveller is noting the connection between his own time and the disappearance of gender distinctions in the future. (In the 1890s they were really nervous about gender distinctions blurring: women becoming less feminine and men less masculine. Do we still feel that way today?)

    Chapter 5

    And this same widening gulf [...] will make that exchange between class and class, that promotion by intermarriage which at present retards the splitting of our species along lines of social stratification, less and less frequent. So, in the end, above ground you must have the Haves, pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots, the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour. (5.39)

    Social class in Wells's London was not entirely set in stone. Wells himself came from a working-class family and he became a wealthy author, but he was the exception. Here Wells presents his vision of a future where class is biologically inescapable: class has become species. So again the Time Traveller draws the connection between his own time and the future.

    Evidently, I thought, this tendency had increased till Industry had gradually lost its birthright in the sky. [...] Even now, does not an East-end worker live in such artificial conditions as practically to be cut off from the natural surface of the earth? (5.38)

    Again, the Time Traveller usefully draws the connection for us between what he finds in the future (workers living underground and non-workers living aboveground) and what he sees in his own time (pretty much the same thing).

    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. (5.40)

    Again, the Time Traveller marks a connection between the future and his own time, but here he starts to sound a little less cheery about the whole thing. That is, "a triumph over...fellow-man" sounds...well, evil might not be too strong a word. Here the Time Traveller realizes that the future utopia required some oppression (and some death).

    Such of them as were so constituted as to be miserable and rebellious would die; and, in the end, the balance being permanent, the survivors would become as well adapted to the conditions of underground life, and as happy in their way, as the Upper-world people were to theirs. (5.39)

    Before he realizes that the Morlocks eat the Eloi, the Time Traveller comes up with the theory that the future is still a utopian setting, where the upper class is happy to be served and the lower class is happy to serve. This may very well be the case – but notice that as soon as he learns that the Eloi are food, the Time Traveller doesn't even consider the possibility that they might be happy with this situation. Instead, he recognizes that the Eloi are probably afraid of the dark because they don't want to be eaten. So how can he also assume that the underground workers were happy to live and work underground?

    Chapter 7

    The Upper-world people might once have been the favoured aristocracy, and the Morlocks their mechanical servants: but that had long since passed away. The two species that had resulted from the evolution of man were sliding down towards, or had already arrived at, an altogether new relationship. (7.2)

    <em>The Time Machine</em> shows us that everything changes. So where the upper class might've been on top at one point, now things don't look so great. (While the Time Traveller is examining this on the level of society, we could also discuss this theme on an individual level: when you're rich, you might not think about the people below you – until you become one of them.)

    Ages ago, 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! (7.2)

    This is probably one of the most awesome quotes from the book. It marks the connections between people not just within the same society, but as part of the same extended family. It notes the crime done ages ago – depriving one brother of his birthright – and reminds us that repression tends to be a temporary situation. (The metaphors Wells uses here – brother fighting brother – remind us of biblical stories, like Cain and Abel or Jacob and Esau.)

    Chapter 10

    So, as I see it, the Upper-world man had drifted towards his feeble prettiness, and the Under-world to mere mechanical industry. (10.4)

    This may be the final kicker for the Time Traveller: the problem isn't just that people have become inhuman, but that the changes have gotten out of control – we've "drifted." (Compare that to some of the language in "Quotes: Man and the Natural World" section, where people deliberately direct natural forces.)


    Or did he go forward, into one of the nearer ages, in which men are still men, but with the riddles of our own time answered and its wearisome problems solved? Into the manhood of the race: for I, for my own part, cannot think that these latter days of weak experiment, fragmentary theory, and mutual discord are indeed man's culminating time! (Epilogue.1)

    The last word on the subject is spoken by the unnamed narrator, who recognizes the problems of the 1890s and hopes for solutions to them in the future. These are the Sphinx's riddles. (Check out "Symbolism" for more on the Sphinx.)

  • Fear

    Chapter 3

    I was seized with a panic fear. [...] My fear grew to frenzy. (3.11)

    The Time Traveller may be a pretty good scientist, but he's no Mr. Spock – he can be a very emotional person. Sometimes he can be excited or amazed, but he spends a lot of the time in the future being afraid. Often that fear ends up making him run around and do things that aren't very productive. (He does, however, seem to get a lot of exercise in the future.)

    Chapter 5

    I had the hardest task in the world to keep my hands off their pretty laughing faces. It was a foolish impulse, but the devil begotten of fear and blind anger was ill curbed and still eager to take advantage of my perplexity. (5.11)

    Fear may be a good motivator – it gets us off our butts – but it doesn't always motivate us to do the right thing. We can compare this scene of self-restraint with the Time Traveller's earlier panic over the lost Time Machine, where he rushes in on the sleeping Eloi and frightens them.

    I sat upon the edge of the well telling myself that, at any rate, there was nothing to fear, and that there I must descend for the solution of my difficulties. And withal I was absolutely afraid to go! (5.34)

    It's hard to argue yourself out of a feeling, and maybe those feelings are there for a reason. The Time Traveller, who we would expect to listen to his logical, scientific side, is afraid and he doesn't know why. Perhaps he should be.

    At once, like a lash across the face, came the possibility of losing my own age, of being left helpless in this strange new world. The bare thought of it was an actual physical sensation. I could feel it grip me at the throat and stop my breathing. (5.4)

    In <em>The Time Machine</em>, fear isn't abstract. It really feels here like the Time Traveller is being attacked by a fearful thought. This is interesting in that one of the sources of his fear – the Morlocks – do physically attack him. However, that doesn't mean the Time Traveller would rather live in a world without fear.

    That is what dismayed me: the sense of some hitherto unsuspected power, through whose intervention my invention had vanished. (5.6)

    One of the primal fears in <em>The Time Machine</em> is fear of the unknown. So while the Time Traveller is traveling into the future, he starts to worry about what he'll find. And now that he knows that there is something (or someone) else in the world, he'll worry about that. He always finds something to fear.

    Chapter 7

    Already the Eloi had begun to learn one old lesson anew. They were becoming reacquainted with Fear. (7.2)

    While the Eloi are mostly unafraid, there is one thing they're afraid of. How do they respond to this fear? (This seems like the sort of danger that might lead to some evolutionary development.)

    Still, however helpless the little people in the presence of their mysterious Fear, I was differently constituted. I came out of this age of ours, this ripe prime of the human race, when Fear does not paralyse and mystery has lost its terrors. I at least would defend myself. (7.3)

    Fear can be a productive emotion if it leads to useful actions. Now that the Time Traveller knows what he's afraid of, he seems more confident that he'll take some purposeful action. (Compare this to his other reactions to being afraid.)

    The enemy I dreaded may surprise you. It was the darkness of the new moon. (7.2)

    The Time Traveller didn't know what to be afraid of when his Time Machine disappeared, but now he knows what to fear. Sometimes knowing our demon doesn't help us be any less afraid of it. Also, what does it say about the Time Traveller that he's now afraid of the dark, just like the childlike Eloi?

    Chapter 10

    I threw my iron bar away, almost sorry not to use it. (10.9)

    If we doubted that fear was useful, here's a helpful counterexample: the Time Traveller is no longer afraid of the Morlocks, so he doesn't take the precaution of bringing his weapon with him – and he very nearly loses his fight with them. If he had been afraid, he would have acted more sensibly.

    Chapter 11

    Then I felt I was fainting. But a terrible dread of lying helpless in that remote and awful twilight sustained me while I clambered upon the saddle. (11.12)

    Here we get another example of fear motivating the Time Traveller and helping him get out of a bad experience. This is perhaps the final example in the book of fear, and it's a positive one. We may not like feeling afraid, but it can be a useful emotion.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Chapter 4

    The work of ameliorating the conditions of life – the true civilizing process that makes life more and more secure – had gone steadily on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over Nature had followed another. Things that are now mere dreams had become projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward. And the harvest was what I saw! (4.24)

    The Time Traveller sometimes seems to consider people as in control of nature. Here, for instance, notice that they "deliberately" carry out projects to help them "triumph...over nature." However, the Time Traveller sometimes also considers people as being controlled <em>by</em> nature – which we get a hint of here with the note about "the harvest" – that is, the change that people went through that resulted in the simple-minded Eloi. The use of the word "harvest" here is creepy, too, since the Morlocks do indeed harvest or breed the Eloi.

    I thought of the physical slightness of the people, their lack of intelligence, and those big abundant ruins, and it strengthened my belief in a perfect conquest of Nature. (4.29)

    There's an irony in the Time Traveller's theories on evolution: people have made the world easier to live in through their energy, and now they no longer need to be energetic. Thus evolution has favored the weak. The fact that people have become stupid and lazy proves that they defeated nature. (Of course, nature will get its revenge in the end.)

    The science of our time has attacked but a little department of the field of human disease, but, even so, it spreads its operations very steadily and persistently. (4.25)

    The Time Traveller sometimes takes an optimistic view of progress; for instance, medicine may be only at its beginning stages, but it's getting better all the time. (Think about all the incredible advances we've made in medicine in the hundred-plus years since this was written.) So our control over nature is increasing.

    The whole world will be intelligent, educated, and co-operating; things will move faster and faster towards the subjugation of Nature. In the end, wisely and carefully we shall readjust the balance of animal and vegetable life to suit our human needs. (4.25)

    The Time Traveller sometimes takes the view that humanity is destined to control nature, to bend it to suit our needs. This is what he imagines has happened between his time and the time of the Eloi.

    Chapter 6

    But, as it was, I stood there with only the weapons and the powers that Nature had endowed me with – hands, feet, and teeth; these, and four safety-matches that still remained to me. (6.10)

    Although the Time Traveller may think of the people of his time as superior to both the Eloi and the Morlocks, his adventure strips him of most of the advantages of civilization. Notice how primitive the two tools he ends up using against the Morlocks are: fire and a club. In some ways, his adventure reduces him to a state of pre-civilization.

    Chapter 7

    Only forty times had that silent revolution occurred during all the years that I had traversed. And during these few revolutions all the activity, all the traditions, the complex organizations, the nations, languages, literatures, aspirations, even the mere memory of Man as I knew him, had been swept out of existence. (7.12)

    Though the Time Traveller sometimes sees humanity as separate from nature, here he recognizes that we're still subject to one of nature's most powerful forces: time. On the other hand, he has learned to control time. So are people controlled by natural forces or do they control them? Ow, our brain hurts.

    Chapter 8

    Only ragged vestiges of glass remained in its windows, and great sheets of the green facing had fallen away from the corroded metallic framework. (8.1)

    The Time Traveller implicitly describes here how natural forces like time, decomposition, and corrosion have affected manmade objects and structures. While some of those structures remain (like the glass cases in the museum), many have been damaged or destroyed by these natural forces. So nature not only affects people; it also affects our stuff.

    Chapter 9

    The hissing and crackling behind me, the explosive thud as each fresh tree burst into flame, left little time for reflection. (9.11)

    Here the fire the Time Traveller set has gotten out of control and is directly hindering one of his most important traits: his level-headedness. This quote also nicely reminds us that the Time Traveller can be funny in his use of understatement.

    Chapter 10

    It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. (10.3)

    In <em>The Time Machine</em>, evolution is both our blessing (humans have evolved to be smart) and our curse (we will evolve to be dumb). Nature is value-neutral: it's not good or bad – it just is. So are people part of nature or separate from it? Did people beat nature? It seems like nature was in charge all along: people only beat it temporarily because nature allowed them to.

    I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes – to come to this at last. (10.2)

    In the Time Traveller's theory, human thought, which is itself a product of evolution, has created the conditions under which we no longer need human thought. Humanity was a victim of its own success.