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The Time Machine | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How does the museum in Chapter 8 ofThe Time Machine, also known as the Palace of Green Porcelain, relate to larger themes in the text?

The Palace of Green Porcelain is a link to, and important reflection of, the past. The fossils, dinosaurs, mammals, and machines represent a variety of successive stages in the development of Earth and of humankind, which have resulted in this future society. A snapshot of all of human history, the place reminds the reader of the theme and process of evolution, which has resulted in two separate species inhabiting this land. The culture of the Eloi and the Morlocks has a demonstrable origin; it didn't just happen by chance. It is the result of a long but natural biological process. Second, the Palace houses machines, displaying the history and development of technology and science, which have enabled the Time Traveller to build and operate his machine, and the Morlocks to dominate the Eloi technologically. However, the Time Traveller finds it easy to get something he can use as a weapon. He also finds matches, enabling him, like Prometheus, to make fire. Finally the Palace, in its role as a museum to display and dramatize past glories and achievements, reminds the Time Traveller and the reader of just how far humanity has fallen with its Eloi–Morlock dystopia.

What parts of The Time Machine are humorous, and what function does this comedy (intentional or not) serve in the story?

There are many humorous elements in The Time Machine. In the opening and closing scenes with the dinner guests, Wells exaggerates the characters and objections of the Editor and the Journalist to mock their professional myopia and narrow minds. Descriptions of the Eloi playing in streams, randomly handing out flowers, and running away shrieking from the Time Traveller who has lost his machine are cartoonish in their simplicity. The way the Eloi swarm over the Time Traveller, like Lilliputians over Gulliver in Swift's Gulliver's Travels, is additionally comic. The humor in the text functions like rests in a musical score, helping to lighten the more serious scenes, while also serving as a contrast to them.

How does The Time Machine portray two sides to technology?

Clearly, to the Time Traveller technology is beneficial. It allows him to build a viable time machine and fly into the future. Fire and tools (the iron bar), more primitive forms of technology, enable him to escape the Morlocks and save his own life. However, technology is a double-edged sword in the story. The laborers who build the railroads, telephone systems, and telegraph lines in the characters' society seem more oppressed than served by it. They work long hours, receive low pay, and remain a social underclass. The Time Traveller describes them as "below ground the Have-nots, the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour." Their future heirs, the Morlocks, command technology in the form of their gigantic ventilating machines that also allow their evil and oppression to flourish. The text shows that technology is a help or a menace, depending on what use is made of it.

What clues in Chapter 12 and the Epilogue of The Time Machine suggest an optimistic view of the future?

Although the Time Traveller never returns, readers do not have to assume that this is because he has met with misfortune. He has had several opportunities to learn how to best prepare for trips, and he has a better understanding of how to handle the time machine. Furthermore, his mood as he leaves is ebullient. He laughs when he meets the Narrator in his house just before leaving; there is no sense of foreboding. One possible interpretation of the story's ending is that the Time Traveller has chosen to remain in a future that he finds more acceptable than 19th-century England, where social classes are growing farther apart. The Epilogue suggests this possibility when the Narrator wonders, "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?"

What is the significance of the "sunset scene" in Chapter 4 of The Time Machine?

As he sits looking over the countryside at sunset at the end of his first day in the future, the Time Traveller thinks about the small, childlike Eloi people whom he has just met. They are weak, incurious, and silly. He thinks he has "happened upon humanity upon the wane." He comes to the conclusion that life became too easy for the rich, ruling upper class, and its members evolved—or rather, degenerated—into these hapless creatures. He believes he is looking at "the sunset of mankind," not just a solar event happening on the visible horizon. The Time Traveller uses a symbolic metaphor, the sunset, to reflect situational irony. At the end of humanity, human forms have become little children, "beginner humans." As time has proceeded from the present to the future, humanity has receded in terms of biological maturity. It is as if evolution is running in reverse.

What elements of The Time Machine's setting and the Time Traveller's devices, laboratory, and attire could appeal to fans of steampunk, science fiction devoted to 19th-century technology?

The term steampunk merges the "steam" that was the primary source of propulsion for 19th-century locomotives, boats, and pumps with the irreverent but innovative "punk" culture of the 20th and 21st centuries. While The Time Machine relies on futuristic technology for power rather than steam, the two time machines themselves, homemade by an amateur inventor, are devices that steampunk fans would enjoy and prize. The first is appealingly described as a "glittering metallic framework, scarcely larger than a small clock, and very delicately made. There was ivory in it, and some transparent crystalline substance." In The Time Traveller's laboratory, the larger machine's "parts were of nickel, parts of ivory, parts had certainly been filed or sawn out of rock crystal." In addition, the Time Traveller sports period attire and trappings with his evening clothes, pipe, knapsack, and small camera.

In The Time Machine, what shift in the narrative of Chapter 7 surprises the reader, and why?

In Chapter 7, the Time Traveller stops telling his story in order to reveal the two withered flowers he has brought back from the future. The Narrator then comments on the appearance of the flowers. This shift in the action surprises the reader because up to this point, the character has not mentioned that he has brought anything back from his travels. The flowers are the only physical evidence he can produce that his journey was real. The interruption also serves to remind the reader of the "story within a story" as the narrative returns to the framing device as well as to reiterate the timeline of the story—the Narrator has already gone to the future and come back.

In The Time Machine, why might the Time Traveller distinguish male and female genders among the Eloi but not the Morlock?

The Eloi are far more "human" in appearance and behavior than the Morlocks. They play, swim, eat together, exchange flowers, and live in buildings. They even have names. It is unsurprising that they have two genders, even though the distinctions are not sharp. On the other hand, the Morlocks are far less human in looks and behavior. They are hairy and "ape-like," they skulk, and they are primarily nocturnal. They all look and act the same, so gender differences would not be apparent. In addition, the story involves a relationship between the Time Traveller and an Eloi that is not entirely platonic. In 19th-century England, homosexuality was a crime, so having two genders among the Eloi allowed H.G. Wells to develop this relationship in a way that contemporary readers could accept.

What features ofThe Time Machine could be considered antifeminist?

Many features of The Time Machine can be considered antifeminist. For example, among the influential dinner guests there is not one woman. At the Time Traveller's house, the only woman is a servant without a single line of dialogue, Mrs. Watchett. The Eloi female with whom the Time Traveller develops a relationship, Weena, is a clingy, childlike dependent, not an equal companion in either intellect, emotion, understanding, or biological maturity. The Time Traveller rescues her, carries her here and there, and takes care of her. When the Time Traveller is reflecting on contemporary social issues, such as the development of two separate classes, women's issues are not a concern. In addition, in Chapter 4 the character distinguishes between "the strength of a man and the softness of a woman."

In Chapter 12 of The Time Machine, why does the Time Traveller set off for a second time?

As he strides toward his laboratory and his Time Machine carrying a knapsack and a small camera, the Time Traveller says to the Narrator, "I'll prove you this time travelling up to the hilt, specimen and all." It is clear that his priority is not necessarily to visit another future (or even to visit a particular past) but to take a trip that will enable him to bring back photographs and hard evidence—"specimens" of, perhaps, plants and animals—to prove to the Narrator and his critics that he truly can journey through time. However, when he does not return, the reader is left to wonder about his fate or if he truly meant to return.

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