Study Guide

The Time Machine Society and Class

By H.G. Wells

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.)