Study Guide

The Time Machine Man and the Natural World

By H.G. Wells

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.