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The Time Machine | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


What do the names Eloi and Morlock suggest about the natures of these creatures in The Time Machine?

Eloi sounds like the word elite, reflecting their place in the future society visited by the Time Traveller. In addition, the long e sound in Eloi (pronounced ee-loy) and the oi lend a feeling of flow to the word. These vowels can be drawn out for a long time, letting them slide off the tongue without obstruction. Their happy, easygoing nature is reflected linguistically in their name. The Hebrew word Elohim, meaning "God," may also be the origin of the term Eloi, suggesting a fall from grace. On the other hand the ck (pronounced kuh) sound in Morlock is hard and stops the word abruptly. Morlock also rhymes with warlock, a word meaning a male witch. The harder, more violent-sounding word befits the Morlocks' nature as primitive and savage predators. The Latin root mor, meaning "death," is suggestive of the origin of the term Morlocks, implying a kind of living death.

How does the opening paragraph of The Time Machine function as exposition, introducing readers to the main protagonist and an important theme or conflict?

Exposition, as opposed to story or plot, describes characters, setting, and important issues rather than narrating. In the first paragraph, readers learn that the protagonist is the Time Traveller; he will have no name but be identified solely by his activity in the story. This immediately lets readers know that time travel itself is the key issue, not personality and character development. Furthermore, the scene is "after dinner," a time of day when "thought roams gracefully free" and the host, the Time Traveller himself, is presenting a "paradox" for discussion. It is apparent that readers have already moved into a time and realm that is beyond the usual. Because a paradox is a seemingly impossible statement or situation that nonetheless turns out to be true or workable, the stage is set for the time travel itself and the wondrous events that will unfold—all before the second paragraph.

In Chapter 4 of The Time Machine, how does Wells use features that the Eloi share with human children to show that time has reversed biologically for this species?

Wells felt that the ruling upper class in Victorian England in his time was becoming less and less vigorous and competent. He uses exaggeration to make this point. Thus, he makes their counterparts in the land he is visiting, the Eloi, appear as children. They are small. They spend their days laughing, playing, swimming and braiding flowers. They cry a lot. They are not intelligent, are unable to communicate with the Time Traveller, and are apparently uninterested in trying to do so. At night, they huddle together in their palaces in fear. They are not capable of rebuilding the dilapidated structures they inhabit or protecting themselves from the Morlocks. All of their incapacities add up to an evolutionary regression. As time has moved on, this branch of humanity has devolved. It has biologically gone backward in time—tall, strong, intelligent, knowledgable adults of the 19th century become small, weak, slow-witted, ignorant children in the future: an unanticipated evolutionary irony.

In Chapters 1 and 2 of The Time Machine, what do the dinner guests' various suggestions about what to do with the time machine show about their personalities?

While H.G. Wells is using the dinner guests in Chapter 1 as types to represent a number and variety of different points of view in society, he also crafts their comments to reflect their characters. The Medical Man, for instance, shows that he is at least open to a new idea, no matter how surprising. He takes the Time Traveller seriously from the start, asking "Are you in earnest about this?" and later, "Are you perfectly serious?" He is inquisitive and curious. The Psychologist is more careful, more circumspect, more suspicious: "Let's see your experiment," he says to the Time Traveller, then pulls back, saying, "though it's all humbug, you know." The Provincial Mayor is the most conservative and doubtful. While the dinner guests debate whether the little version of the machine has gone into the past or the future, the Mayor remarks only that there are "serious objections." In Chapter 2, the Editor shows a singular professional focus when he imagines headlines about the potential time travel rather than expressing an interest in the scientific ramifications: "Remarkable Behaviour of an Eminent Scientist," is one. The Journalist overtly ridicules the Time Traveller, imagining his own headline, shouting, "Our Special Correspondent in the Day after To-morrow reports ..." and showing only his own obtuseness.

In Chapter 3 of The Time Machine, how does the Time Traveller's description when he starts the time machine reflect his point that "time is only a kind of Space?"

The Time Traveller's point is made by the very words he uses from the start, first describing a sensation of "falling," which is, of course, a rapid descent through space, from a higher to a lower location. When his housekeeper, Mrs. Watchett, seems to "shoot across the room like a rocket," she is perceived as moving through that particular confined space. He also describes "a feeling exactly like that one has upon a switchback—of a helpless headlong motion!" It is as if he is hurtling down a mountainside back and forth from curve to curve—on a road that is located in a concrete space on the planet. He is describing being jostled from side to side (in space), not from second from second (as in time).

In Chapter 5 of The Time Machine, what does the Time Traveller mean in his remark about Weena: "I did not clearly know what I had inflicted upon her ..."?

The full text of this important realization is "Until it was too late, I did not clearly know what I had inflicted upon her when I left her. Nor until it was too late did I clearly understand what she was to me." What the Time Traveller means is that he has underestimated both his own capacity for affection and, as well, his ability to be touched deeply by another human being. Weena is an important addition because she is able to form an affectionate bond—even if it is not a mature or romantic relationship—with the Time Traveller, demonstrating that the human heart is still vibrant and important despite the collapse of human society over time, evident in the existence of the savage Morlocks and ineffectual Eloi. He has to admit to himself that "she was, somehow, a very great comfort" and "the little doll of a creature presently gave my return to the neighbourhood of the White Sphinx almost the feeling of coming home." Are the two "in love"? They do not share a mature, developed, romantic bond. They never embrace or kiss. They share mutual affection of the kind between a parent and a child; they may be said to love each other in this way. However, Weena is intellectually and emotionally a child. The Time Traveller rescues her, carries her here and there, takes care of her in every way. Then when she dies, surprisingly he does not weep or mourn or even look for her remains. It seems as if the author uses the relationship with Weena to make a point about the Time Traveller's capacity for compassion more than to say anything about a future human's capacity to develop a romantic attachment.

What makes the flowers mentioned in the Epilogue of The Time Machine significant to readers' belief in the Time Traveller's story?

In the Epilogue, the Narrator is left with two withered white flowers that are extremely important. The flowers, though withered, are living things. They are not artificial but grew in actual earth somewhere at some real time on the planet. Theoretically, they provide concrete physical evidence of the journey the Time Traveller described to his dinner guests. After examining them, the Medical Man says pointedly: "I certainly don't know the natural order of these flowers." He uses the word order as a technical biological term that biologists use to classify earthly organisms. The Medical Man means that the flowers do not come from any known "family" of present earth flowers that he recognizes. The clear inference is that the Time Traveller can only have gotten them in another location on his time trip. Second, the Time Traveller has said that Weena gave the flowers to him. She thought his pockets were for holding flowers, in fact. They are important symbols of their bond and physical closeness. That he did not just pick them himself but has a coherent, detailed narrative about both their origin and about Weena herself adds further credence to his story.

In Chapter 4 of The Time Machine, how do the Elois' habitat and manners reflect their "lack of interest"?

As the Time Traveller visits where the Eloi live, the setting reflects a "lack of interest." He first sees a "tangled waste" of vegetation and a "long neglected" garden." Entering, he encounters "very badly broken and weather-worn" decorations. Once inside the building, he mentions that "perhaps the thing that struck me most was its dilapidated look. The stained-glass windows, which displayed only a geometrical pattern, were broken in many places, and the curtains that hung across the lower end were thick with dust. And it caught my eye that the corner of the marble table near me was fractured." Furthermore, as the Eloi seat themselves for a meal, "with a pretty absence of ceremony they began to eat the fruit with their hands, flinging peel and stalks, and so forth."

In Chapter 5 of The Time Machine, how does the Time Traveller's resolution to "look ... circumstances fairly in the face" after his anger reinforce his scientific perspective on life?

As the Time Traveller says, "I could reason with myself," he allows the emotions of fear and disappointment—the "wild folly of my frenzy"—to wash over him and away to be replaced by calm, rational thinking. Then he says, "things came clear in my mind." Like a scientist, he starts making hypotheses: "Suppose the machine altogether lost—perhaps destroyed?"—"But probably, the machine had only been taken away." About the world he finds himself in, he decides he will act as any good scientist would: "Learn its ways, watch it, be careful of too hasty guesses at its meaning." He says to himself, "patience," and eventually he is calm enough to laugh aloud at how his own scientific ability in creating the time machine got him into this world in the first place.

In Chapter 1 of The Time Machine, how do the dinner guests reveal their function as stand-ins for readers' questions about the story?

As a group, the overall skepticism and sometimes actual ridicule of the dinner guests allows Wells to reveal and deal with objections to the Time Traveller's story of his journey and the science with which he explains it, objections that anyone reading The Time Machine might reasonably have. By airing these openly and allowing the Time Traveller to address and then rebut them, Wells is implicitly improving the likelihood that the reader will believe the Time Traveller and his explanations in a classic "willing suspension of disbelief," as the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said good readers should exercise. The dinner guests express different approaches based on their professions—the Medical Man, the Psychologist, the Provincial Mayor—so that a number and variety of points of view are presented.

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