The Time Machine

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The Narrator Character Analysis

The narrator of The Time Machine is all but absent from the book. He is one of the Time Traveller’s dinner companions, which suggests that he is also a member of the British elite, but his profession is not named and he does not figure into any of the Time Traveller’s story about the future, which comprises the bulk of the book. The narrator is notable, though, for seeming less skeptical of the Time Traveller’s story than the other dinner guests. However, the narrator does not seem to be able to fully absorb the lessons of the Time Traveller’s story, even though he does believe that it happened. The narrator, unable to overcome his desire for future humans to have improved on the conditions of the present, prefers to live with the assumption that future humans will have better lives than he will. This makes him unable to fight to change the Victorian social conditions that led to the Eloi and the Morlocks in the first place, which makes the narrator a rather ineffectual vehicle for the Time Traveller’s story.

The Narrator Quotes in The Time Machine

The The Time Machine quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator or refer to The Narrator. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Inequality and Social Class Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Signet Classics edition of The Time Machine published in 2014.
Epilogue Quotes

Or 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? Into the manhood of the race: for I, for my own part, cannot think that these latter days of weak experiment, fragmentary theory, and mutual discord are indeed man’s culminating time!

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Time Traveller
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

Before the Time Traveller witnessed the future, his beliefs were much like the narrator’s: he thought humans would advance indefinitely and solve the pressing problems of Victorian society. As the Time Traveller becomes disillusioned, his view of humanity adjusts accordingly, becoming bleaker and bleaker and then downright pessimistic. Though the narrator knows and respects why this would be, he cannot himself share the view that his own time, full of violence and strife, is the pinnacle of humanity. This underscores two cognitive and cultural biases that Wells is interested in throughout the book: that progress is linear (efforts to solve problems will create a better world, and knowledge will always expand) and that human beings are essentially good. The narrator’s folly here is a sad ending to the book. The Time Traveller has likely sacrificed his life in order to tell a story that could have profound social consequences for the Victorian era. Were the elites at the Time Traveller’s dinner party to take his tale to heart, they might be able to effect that kind of social change that could prevent the human race from splitting in two and decaying. However, because even the narrator (the only one to believe the Time Traveller at all) falls victim to these cognitive biases, he is unable to confront the truth of the future and therefore he is powerless before it.

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And I have before me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers—shriveled now, and brown and flat and brittle—to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Eloi , Weena
Related Symbols: Weena’s Flowers
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator, having expressed his discomfort with the darker implications of the Time Traveller’s tale of the future (cannibalism, social inequality, loss of knowledge and culture), chooses to focus on the fact that he has Weena’s flowers for comfort. These flowers symbolize the gestures of kindness and sympathy that made the Time Traveller feel at home in the future—they are, in a sense, symbolic of the only redeeming aspect of the future of the human race. In one sense, this is an argument for kindness as a fundamental human quality and it gives hope for the future of humanity. On the other hand, though, it’s just this kind of selective logic (choosing to focus on the good instead of the bad, and not striving for the whole picture) that gets the human race in trouble to begin with. The very conclusion that the narrator makes, which is essentially “at least there are nice people in the dystopian future,” is exemplary of a kind of thinking opposite of the Time Traveller’s, who is always looking to readjust his worldview to fit his observations. In this sense, then, the ending is both a slight bit of optimism—that not all humanity will die out even in a dystopian future—and a bleak conclusion for that same future, indicating that humans are not as rational and capable as they think they are.

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The Narrator Character Timeline in The Time Machine

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator appears in The Time Machine. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Inequality and Social Class Theme Icon
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
The book opens on the narrator at a dinner party of well-educated, upper-class professionals and specialists, including his friend, an eminent... (full context)
Chapter 2
Inequality and Social Class Theme Icon
The narrator reflects that nobody believed the Time Traveller at the time because he was considered to... (full context)
Inequality and Social Class Theme Icon
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
When the narrator arrives at the Time Traveller’s house, one of the dinner guests is holding a note... (full context)
Chapter 12
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
...is dented and covered in grass. On the way out, the guests express disbelief, but the narrator states that he is undecided and he wants to go see the Time Traveller again... (full context)
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
Fear and Kindness Theme Icon
The narrator sits down in another room and the laboratory door closes. Then the narrator hears a... (full context)
Epilogue
Inequality and Social Class Theme Icon
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
Humans, Nature, and the Universe Theme Icon
Fear and Kindness Theme Icon
The narrator wonders about the Time Traveller’s fate, imagining him in a future in which all of... (full context)