Study Guide

The Time Machine Technology and Modernization

By H.G. Wells

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.