Study Guide

The Time Machine Community

By H.G. Wells

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).

Epilogue

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.