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The Time Machine | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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How was the technology used in The Time Machine influenced by the era in which the author lived?

The mid-to-late 19th century was a period of rapid change throughout the world. The Industrial Revolution was over, but its effects on industry, manufacturing, and technology pushed society into a new era. New processes in iron and steel production led to the development of machine tools that spurred new inventions. Many of the new inventions, such as the steam engine, were created and developed in England. The time machine in the novel contains gears and levers, something that would have been seen in a steam engine or locomotive. The author, living in London at the time, would have been familiar with these machines. The technological advances that stemmed from the Industrial Revolution must have had a profound effect on H.G. Wells. The Time Traveller required a complex machine that was only made possible by the technology available at the time.

What elements make The Time Machine difficult to believe as a work of science fiction?

The existence and operation of a time machine is the greatest hurdle for readers to overcome. The machine is not described in enough detail for it to be fully convincing. Wells seems to anticipate this criticism by having the Narrator say in Chapter 2, "I think that at that time none of us quite believed in the Time Machine." Photography had been invented decades before the novel's publication in 1895, and yet the Time Traveller never brought back any photographs of his journeys. The flowers were the only physical evidence of his time travel, and even though it was an as-yet undiscovered species, it was not enough to prove he was telling the truth. If the Time Traveller could invent an amazing machine capable of time travel, he could have brought back hard evidence of his journey in the form of photographs. It is also a challenge to believe that humankind would divide into two such separate species in the future. Readers might also question how is it possible that the skulking, nearly blind, underground Morlocks could build and/or service huge, complex machines, or how the Eloi could stay alive when they do no visible work growing the food they need to survive.

In The Time Machine, the Time Traveller compares the Morlocks to several natural organisms. How do these analogies reflect the character's scientific worldview?

While searching for his missing time machine, the Time Traveller notices "queer narrow footprints like those I could imagine made by a sloth." Later, he sees "a queer little ape-like figure" running away. Following it to one of the wells, he finds "it was so like a human spider!" In his mind, he compares it to "most animals that live largely in the dark—the white fish of the Kentucky caves, for instance." The sloth comparison is apt in that both creatures, Morlocks and marsupials, are furry and reclusive. The comparison to apes emphasizes the size and ambulatory motion of the Morlocks, but while readers now know apes to be intelligent in a number of ways, in the 19th century the opposite would have been the prevailing view: "ape-like" is not intended as a compliment. Spiders, which produce arachnophobia in so many people, have connotations of secrecy, scuttling, dark places, and latent menace. Finally, the blanched cave fish are clearly abnormal and therefore perhaps the most unsettling. However, as a scientist, the Time Traveller no doubt relates to the interconnectedness of all living things, and is a classifier as well. In comparing the Morlocks to other life forms, he is in one sense carefully, rationally trying to place them in an appropriate biological slot. The problem is, they don't have one.

In Chapter 11 of The Time Machine, how does the material edited out act as commentary on the far future of humanity beyond the Eloi and the Morlocks?

The missing five paragraphs, later published as a separate story, The Grey Men, describe two far future visits. In the first, the Time Traveller lands on an "uneven stretch of cheerless plateau" with some gray animals about the size of "a small kangaroo" with fur, five digits on their hands and feet, and round heads. Clearly they might be human, perhaps evolutions—or rather, devolutions—of Morlocks. However, the Time Traveller only sees them as "vermin." In the second visit 30 million years ahead, in an even grimmer landscape he finds just a single, legless creature with tentacles thrashing around in the surf. Removing this material, showing a future bereft of developed humans and even recognizable animals, allows for a less pessimistic ending to the story and to Wells's vision of the future. When the Time Traveller sets off on his final journey and does not return, readers have an easier time imagining a better second landing and experience. The edited view of "humanity" is ghastly.

In Chapter 11 of The Time Machine, could an argument be made that the "thing" on the beach "hopping fitfully about" is a degenerated form of a human being?

More than 30 million years into the future, the Time Traveller lands in a dark landscape where he sees something moving: "It was a round thing, the size of a football perhaps, or, it may be, bigger, and tentacles trailed down from it; it seemed black against the weltering blood-red water, and it was hopping fitfully about." The organism, apparently amphibian, appears to look like some sort of octopus. Because it moves "fitfully," it does not seem to have the capacity of a purposeful consciousness or the ability to get around very easily. It is difficult to argue that it is a devolved human being because it could, in fact, be a type of a wide variety of life forms, from mammals to reptiles. However, because of the "grey men" the Time Traveller encountered between the years of the Eloi–Morlock society and this creature, humanity definitely seems to be on a downward, not upward, evolutionary trend. It is possible that this "football" represents a last gasp of humanity, flailing on the edge of sea and land, precisely where land life forms leading to humans originated.

What key functions does the Editor have in Chapter 12 of The Time Machine?

The Editor is described as being in charge of a "well-known daily paper." As such, the reader can expect him to have a broad influence on the public through the circulation of his publication and any opinion pieces he might write on his editorial page. A nonscientist, his rejection of the Time Traveller's story and machine represents a "man on the street" view. When he calls the Time Traveller's tale "a gaudy lie," his are the strongest negative words expressed in the entire story. However, by saying so in such an immediately dismissive way without giving any reasons for his opinion, he unwittingly undercuts his own position. Thus, he functions in several ways to strengthen the belief of the Narrator, to whom he is speaking, in what has transpired and, by extension, that of the reader as well.

In Chapter 2 of The Time Machine, what significance is there in the Time Traveller's exclamation, "I'm starving for a bit of meat"?

When in Chapter 2 the Time Traveller asks the dinner guests to "save me some of that mutton," readers assume he is simply hungry for his supper. Of course, the audience has not yet heard his whole story of where he has been. Later, readers can better understand his demand because he has been far away for a long time eating an unfamiliar diet. However, his exclamation may also imply that he has elements in common with both the Morlocks and he Eloi. His desire for meat connects him to the carnivorous Morlocks, but he is not primitive enough to eat the flesh of those who resemble humans too closely. The Eloi are vegetarians, and the Morlocks are nearly cannibalistic as they feed upon the Eloi. The Time Traveller enjoys the taste of meat, but is not aggressive like the Morlocks and has more in common with the Eloi. Therefore, he embodies certain character traits of both future species who descend from humans.

What is the significance of the Journalist's suggestion in Chapter 2 of The Time Machine that the Time Traveller is an "Amateur Cadger"?

Appearing in Chapter 2 at the second dinner, the Journalist provides continuity with the Very Young Man in Chapter 1. Through the Narrator, Wells describes him and the Editor as "the new kind of journalist—very joyous, irreverent young men." Making the dinner guests truly multigenerational in composition, the Journalist makes the Time Traveller's situation more difficult. Now, there are both young and old skeptics. When the Journalist asks if the Time Traveller is "doing the Amateur Cadger," he is literally asking if he is trying to act the part of a trickster or beggar, like a man on the street trying to engage passersby in a game of three-card monte. The Journalist "join[s] the Editor in the easy work of heaping ridicule on the whole thing." By doing so, he intensifies the pressure on the Time Traveller. Conventionally, young people are expected to be more open to new ideas, but this young man is clearly not.

What is the role of the Very Young Man in The Time Machine?

The Very Young Man in Chapter 1, unlike the Journalist and the Editor in Chapter 2, is enthusiastic about the idea of time travel. On traveling to the past, he says, "One might get one's Greek from the very lips of Homer and Plato." The young are usually seen as innovators, and this man is open to new ideas. The fact that he expresses enthusiasm pulls the reader deeper into the story. The advantages on which he remarks make the reader want to learn more from the Time Traveller. His is a voice of opposition to the older, more critical men, and to the skeptical part of the readers in this early introduction to the Time Traveller, his theories, and his project.

What is the role of the Provincial Mayor in The Time Machine?

The Provincial Mayor is a politician type representing government authority in society. Wells includes him in the novel because so much of the book is devoted to social issues, especially class and governance. The text asks questions such as: Who governs in the land of the Eloi and Morlocks? Who is governed? Did the groups evolve from capitalists and laborers, as the Time Traveller claims? While the Provincial Mayor is a small-time official, his point of view on such questions is important. In fact, it may be he who best understands the social system of the future. With his addition to the group, scientific responses to the Time Traveller's story are balanced with those that take a social perspective.

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