The Time Machine | Study Guide

H. G. Wells

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The Time Machine | Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

Now the Time Traveller understands why the Eloi so dread the Morlocks. As the moon approaches the end of its cycle and the nights grow increasingly dark, he expects to see more of the Morlocks above ground. Exploring the countryside, he sees some distance away a vast "Palace of Green Porcelain." He plans to visit it, but before he does he decides to investigate one of the circular wells. Weena begs him not to, but he descends the ladder some 200 yards, almost falling when one of the rungs collapses under his weight. He can hear the sound of a machine below him. Finding a horizontal tunnel, he enters it. A soft hand touches his face. He sees three Morlocks. Lighting a match, he watches them scurry away. He calls out, but they do not answer.

Proceeding farther, he comes to a vast cavern and smells blood. He lights another match. On a table in the middle, he sees Morlocks making a meal of the "red joint" of some animal. He suddenly realizes he has no weapons with which to protect himself. He has only the four matches he has left. As his match goes out, the cavern is plunged into darkness. Morlocks surround him. They tug at his matchbox. He cries out. Terrified, he lights a piece of paper from his pocket and flees back down the tunnel. They pursue him. As his light goes out, the Morlocks grab him. He lights a third match, making it to the ladder. It goes out. They clutch at his feet, but he lights his fourth and last match, scaring them off just long enough to get onto the ladder. As he climbs frantically, a pursuing Morlock almost tears off one of his boots. He barely makes it out of the well before collapsing. As Weena kisses him, he passes out.

Analysis

The Time Traveller realizes that here in the future, the former underlings are now the overlords. The Morlocks are more powerful than the Eloi, and that is why it is the Morlocks that must have taken his machine and why no Eloi has commanded his machine be returned. They can't. The images of light and dark return here as the Time Traveller realizes there will be more Morlocks aboveground as the moon wanes. They are associated with darkness and therefore evil. Furthermore, they live in a literal underworld of dark tunnels.

Determined to retrieve his machine and learn more about the Morlocks, the Time Traveller visits and explores their dark world. When they try to steal his matches, they are trying to take away the symbols of his human power, the fire that from the earliest times has allowed humans to protect themselves from predators in darkness. His realization that the Morlocks eat Eloi flesh for food is the final blow. It is—or nearly is—cannibalism, the one taboo universal among all earthly societies.

It is now clear that he is visiting a dystopia, a land where might makes right, the strong prey on the weak, murder is the order of the day, and there is worse class enmity—or warfare—than ever before, even after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, both biological and social. A union strike does not compare to killing and eating one's competitor. As the Time Traveller flees these creatures who might well eat him, readers can only imagine his surprise and disappointment as he faces a society he never once imagined while sitting in his cozy, Richmond house with its servants.

Finally, the symbolism of the machine resonates in this chapter. It is his own machine that enables the Time Traveller to visit here. It is the Morlocks' machines that enable them to survive where they live underground. It is their theft of his machine that renders him impotent and trapped. The machine is associated with both the proper use and the misuse of power. One way or another, the machine is life and death for both the Time Traveller and the Morlocks. In this book, the machine is king.

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Questions for Chapter 6

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