The Time Machine

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Themes and Colors
Inequality and Social Class Theme Icon
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
Humans, Nature, and the Universe Theme Icon
Fear and Kindness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Time Machine, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Technology and Progress Theme Icon

The Time Machine opens with the Time Traveller explaining to his dinner guests the underlying scientific principles that make his invention, the time machine, possible. This immersion into mathematical concepts and scientific language is meant to give readers a taste of the intelligence, creativity, and ambition that fuel technological development. In contrast, the Eloi of the future lack language, technology, and even physical strength—they are presented as a lazy species that naps and frolics and eats copious amounts of fruit. The Eloi’s living conditions are so idyllic that they do not struggle to meet their basic needs, and the Time Traveller interprets this, at first, as a realization of technological utopia free from worry or deprivation. However, the presence of the Morlocks—who have resorted to cannibalism because their basic needs have not been met—makes it clear that technology has not been a liberating force for everyone.

While many works of science fiction revel in the complex and exciting technologies of the future, The Time Machine takes an opposite approach, positing that the Victorian era could be the technological pinnacle of humankind, followed by a deterioration of the technological and cultural progress that many people expect to continue indefinitely into the future. Writing on the heels of the industrial revolution, Wells was immersed in a society saturated by the promise and peril of new technology. Suddenly new goods were available, and once-arduous tasks were made easier, but there were also new dangers like rampant pollution and industrial accidents, not to mention exacerbations of social divisions based on new wealth and poor labor conditions. Interestingly, Wells does not imagine that this Victorian technological boom would continue indefinitely, nor does he imagine a world imperiled by a technology-related disaster. Instead, he imagines something more complex: that technological progress could create living conditions so idyllic that human progress and intelligence disappear, and so disastrous that humans could resort to cannibalism. Technology in The Time Machine is then directly linked to both progress and to intellectual decay and violence.

Wells is consistently ambivalent about the role of technology in human society; the differences between the lives of the Eloi and Morlocks are more broadly symbolic of the dueling promise and peril of technological innovation, and this directly reflects the social conditions of Victorian England in which technology created ease, wealth, and freedom for the upper class, and punishing working and living conditions for the lower classes. This duality is seen, too, in the time machine itself, which is both liberating (in that it makes time travel possible, which could before only be imagined) and perilous (for instance, the Time Traveller could materialize inside a solid object in the future, or he could be stranded in dangerous conditions).

Thus, Wells does not find an easy answer to whether technology is good or bad for humanity. On the one hand, technological progress can improve lives, but, on the other hand, technology can destroy the very conditions that make humans vibrant and capable, and it can exacerbate social divisions. The key to technology might, then, be found in the Time Traveller himself, who uses technology not to wield power over others, but to ask questions about the status quo and bring back knowledge that could help humanity. In other words, the Time Traveller can be seen as emblematic of science itself—he relentlessly forms hypotheses about the future and then readjusts them based on observation in order to generate knowledge, which mirrors the scientific method. If the Time Traveller represents science free of corrupting social forces, then Wells is suggesting that the Time Traveller’s tale, with all of its implications for social justice, is what technology can offer at its best.

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Technology and Progress Quotes in The Time Machine

Below you will find the important quotes in The Time Machine related to the theme of Technology and Progress.
Chapter 3 Quotes

What might appear when that hazy curtain was altogether withdrawn? What might not have happened to men? What if cruelty had grown into a common passion? What if in this interval the race had lost its manliness, and had developed into something inhuman, unsympathetic, and overwhelmingly powerful? I might seem some old-world savage animal, only the more dreadful and disgusting for our common likeness—a foul creature to be incontinently slain.

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Time Traveller is about to stop the time machine and enter an unknown future, he muses about what he might find. He had previously eagerly anticipated encountering an advanced race of humans who had improved, over the millennia, on the humans of his era. This, then, is his first flicker of doubt. He realizes that human progress is not necessarily linear—nobody knows what adaptations and circumstances characterize the people of the future, and the Time Traveller’s fear is that future humans might be powerful and cruel. He worries that these creatures might not respect him, as a weaker and less-developed version of them, and that he might die at their hands. Here, the Time Traveller thinks about kindness and sympathy as human traits that he fears might be lost, but he never questions the advancement of future humans’ strength and intelligence—this suggests that he thinks of strength and intelligence as more definitive of humanity than kindness. It also puts into perspective that humans, as we know them, have not been and will not be permanently in their present form throughout history. Humans evolve, just like the landscape and other animals, and these evolutions are not predictable.

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Chapter 4 Quotes

Seeing the ease and security in which these people were living, I felt this close resemblance between the sexes was after all what one would expect; for the strength of a man and the softness of a woman, the institution of the family, and the differentiation of occupations are mere militant necessities of an age of physical force…

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker), The Eloi
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

When the Time Traveller meets the Eloi he is initially disappointed to realize that they are feeble and unintelligent. However, the Time Traveller had assumed that people would have improved over the ages, so he works to fit his new observations into that framework. The way to make this future seem to be an improvement on the past is to believe that the Eloi are a utopian society whose particular characteristics have resulted from the ease and security with which they live—the Time Traveller suggests that they lost strength, intelligence, gender division, and clearly-defined family units because they no longer needed to work and protect one another. In this way, the Time Traveller frames the characteristics of the humans of his era as backwards. This hypothesis proves to be incorrect, and its formation shows the perils and process of the scientific method. The Time Traveller makes sense of his observations by fitting them into an existing framework of thought, and it is not until his observations have overwhelmingly contradicted this framework (the advancement of the species) that he is able to re-evaluate the framework and see what is really happening in the future.

Strength is the outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness. The work of ameliorating the conditions of life—the true civilizing process that makes life more and more secure—had gone steadily on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over Nature had followed another. Things that are now mere dreams had become projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward. And the harvest was what I saw!

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker), The Eloi
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

The Time Traveller’s utopian explanation of the Eloi society is at its most exuberant here. He assumes that, from his era onward, humans had come together to solve all the problems facing them and they had succeeded. The Eloi, he believes, are the race that resulted from mankind’s triumph over nature and adversity, and their characteristics that seem to be regressions (weakness, stupidity) are really just adaptations to utopian conditions. When he refers to the “harvest,” what he implies is that he is witnessing the fruits of hundreds of thousands of years of work to overcome adversity. This, he imagines, must be the pinnacle of the human race. The Time Traveller’s need to fit the Eloi into his framework of human progress shows how powerful the idea is that humans will constantly improve. The physical and mental weakness of the Eloi might have immediately suggested a backsliding of humanity, had the Time Traveller not been so convinced that this species must be the result of progress.

Very simple was my explanation, and plausible enough—as most wrong theories are!

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Once the Time Traveller has fully explained his theory that the Eloi are the result of utopian triumph over all adversity, he admits that he was wrong in his initial assessment. The Time Traveller’s way of thinking about and understanding the world closely mirrors the scientific method, and here the Time Traveller’s comments reflect the fact that, in scientific thought, the first hypothesis is often wrong. Initial assessments often only take into account what is most clearly known and they are often warped by bias. It is only when many observations and hypotheses have been made and contradicted that a comprehensive picture of reality can emerge. The Time Traveller also remarks on complexity here, stating that when a hypothesis is too simple it’s often wrong. The remainder of the book is an exploration of the contradictions and complexities inherent to technology, society, and the human psyche. Wells’ goal with this book is to complicate the reader’s ideas of things that had once seemed straightforward, as, so often, is the role of science.

Chapter 5 Quotes

To sit among all these unknown things before a puzzle like that is hopeless. That way lies monomania. Face this world. Learn its ways, watch it, be careful of too hasty guesses at its meaning. In the end you will find clues to it all.

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

After the Time Traveller realizes that his time machine is missing and his temper gets the best of him, he passes a fitful night of sleep and wakes up feeling more clearheaded about the way forward. Being violent and impulsive out of anger and fear is not the most rational or effective way to get his time machine back, he realizes, but rather he must take advantage of his intelligence, curiosity, and patience in order to piece together clues as to where his machine is. This approach contrasts with the Eloi, who do not appear to have the intellectual fortitude to piece together clues, and who also seem to have never encountered a challenge like the one the Time Traveller is facing. This is further evidence (though the Time Traveller does not fully acknowledge this yet) that the Time Traveller is more advanced and capable than the species of the future. This passage also underscores the Time Traveller’s reliance on intelligence and observation to navigate the world. Throughout the book, he insists that intelligence and curiosity are the bedrock traits of humanity. It’s never clear if this is Wells’ opinion, or if this is the Time Traveller’s personal bias (one that is consistent with his passion for science), but the Time Traveller finds that intelligent observation is always the way forward.

But gradually the truth dawned on me: that Man had not remained one species, but had differentiated into two distinct animals: that my graceful children of the Upper-world were not the sole descendants of our generation, but that this bleached, obscene, nocturnal Thing, which had flashed before me, was also heir to all the ages.

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker), The Eloi , The Morlocks
Related Symbols: Light, Darkness, and Fire
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

After the Time Traveller catches a glimpse of a white ape in the darkness, he follows it to one of the mysterious wells he has seen all over the landscape. Watching it descend underground (which the Time Traveller believes, based on the aboveground network of wells and towers, to have sophisticated ventilation), he comes to the conclusion that this thing, too, is a descendant of Victorian-era humans. This is the first real rattling of the Time Traveller’s hypothesis of inevitable human progress. While the Eloi seem comprehensible and benevolent, this new being makes the Time Traveller feel disgusted, and it is a disconcerting and upsetting conclusion that the human species has diverged into two. The Time Traveller’s new conclusion challenges the assumption that one species of human is destined to inhabit the earth alone (as it does in the Victorian era), as well as the assumption that humans will improve, since this being seems evil. It’s interesting, too, that the Time Traveller has a much easier time recognizing the benevolent Eloi as human, even though the Morlocks are equally humanoid in form. This suggests, again, that kindness plays a role in how humanity defines itself.

Chapter 7 Quotes

Still, however helpless the little people in the presence of their mysterious Fear, I was differently constituted. I came out of this age of ours, this ripe prime of the human race, when Fear does not paralyse and mystery has lost its terrors.

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker), The Eloi
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

The Time Traveller sees the Eloi as helpless before their fear (their reaction to feeling afraid, to sleep in one room and stay out of the darkness, is entirely defensive), but he sees himself as differently constituted because of the age he came from. As a scientist, the Time Traveller’s instinct is to press into mystery and learn all he can despite the risks of the unknown. This approach is opposite from the Eloi, who lack curiosity or an appetite for risk. The Time Traveller also sees fear as something that has made him strong and smart. By having to navigate fear consistently (at least compared to the Eloi, he thinks) during his life in Victorian England, he has learned not to be paralyzed by it—he can continue his life and he can work to fight his fears even though he might sometimes feel afraid. It is this unique constitution that allows the Time Traveller to navigate this unknown world and learn enough to eventually save his own life. This corroborates the Time Traveller’s belief that the Eloi have doomed themselves by adapting to easy lives.

And during these few revolutions all the activity, all the traditions, the complex organizations, the nations, languages, literatures, aspirations, even the mere memory of Man as I knew him, had been swept out of existence. Instead were these frail creatures who had forgotten their high ancestry, and the white Things of which I went in terror.

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker), The Eloi , The Morlocks
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, the Time Traveller no longer feels at all proud of the utopian achievements of future humans. He knows now that class divisions have caused humanity to decay into two inferior species. As he looks at the stars (now so old that their patterns are unrecognizable), he mourns all of the effort and achievement of the past that has been lost as a result of this decay. The Eloi and Morlocks, all that remain of the vast and proud human tradition, are either stupid or evil. This is a moment of profound loss for the Time Traveller who, as a scientist, dedicates his life to the advancement of knowledge and technology in order to, ideally, better the future. So this moment not only points to the futility of human life and history overall, but also to the specific futility of the Time Traveller’s own life and passion for science. It’s an insult to him that after all of the centuries of human advancement and all of the effort put into solving problems and gaining knowledge, he now must live in terror of a humanoid creature that is weaker and less intelligent than he is.

Then I tried to preserve myself from the horror that was coming upon me by regarding it as a rigorous punishment of human selfishness. Man had been content to live in ease and delight upon the labours of his fellow-man, had taken Necessity as his watchword and excuse, and in the fullness of time Necessity had come home to him. I even tried a Carlyle-like scorn of this wretched aristocracy in decay. But this attitude of mind was impossible. However great their intellectual degradation, the Eloi had kept too much of the human form not to claim my sympathy, and to make me perforce a sharer in their degradation and their Fear.

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker), The Eloi , The Morlocks
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Once the Time Traveller realizes that the Morlocks are cannibals and that the Eloi’s great fear of them is the result of their worry that the Morlocks will eat them, he is gripped by an unprecedented horror at what has become of mankind. He acknowledges that this cannibalism is the result of human adaptations to prolonged inequality and he tries to even justify cannibalism to himself this way. If the Eloi forced the Morlocks to toil underground in order to keep the Eloi comfortable for centuries, then perhaps the Eloi becoming the prey of the Morlocks is a sort of Karmic justice for centuries of Morlock suffering. However, the Time Traveller remains unconvinced by this logic. Despite the fact that the Eloi are helpless and stupid, he identifies with them because they seem to him more human than the Morlocks. This isn’t because the Eloi are more intelligent (they’re not), but because they’re kind and sympathetic—and they simply look more human than the Morlocks. Aside from the Time Traveller’s aesthetic preference, this is the most powerful argument for kindness as being definitive of the thing contemporary humans recognize as “humanness” or “humanity,” even though the Time Traveller has previously tried to argue for the definitive quality being intelligence.

Chapter 8 Quotes

I saw an inscription in some unknown character. I thought, rather foolishly, that Weena might help me to interpret this, but I only learned that the bare idea of writing had never entered her head. She always seemed to me, I fancy, more human than she was, perhaps because her affection was so human.

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker), Weena
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

The more the Time Traveller learns about the world of the future, the less he is able to rely on his notion of intelligence being definitive of human beings. The Time Traveller is repeatedly disappointed that the Eloi are no help to him in finding the time machine because they are so weak, stupid, and uncurious. Weena occupies a complex role, however, because she gives the Time Traveller friendship and comfort, which are important to his ability to keep up morale despite hardship and fear. This quote displays the Time Traveller’s ambivalence about how to categorize Weena—he thinks of her as being human because she shows affection and sympathy, but here he walks that categorization back in light of her lack of sophistication. He seems to be reminding himself that Weena is not like him because she lacks intelligence, even though the two of them have developed a genuine friendship. This again underscores the complexity of classifying what a human essentially is.

Chapter 10 Quotes

I understood now what the beauty of the Over-world people covered. Very pleasant was their day, as pleasant as the day of the cattle in the field. Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same.

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker), The Eloi
Related Symbols: Light, Darkness, and Fire
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

The more the Time Traveller learns about the relationship between the Eloi and the Morlocks, the darker and more complex his ideas about the future society become. He had first understood the peacefulness of the Eloi as utopian, then as exploitative, and then as naïve in the face of the coming danger from the Morlocks. At this moment he ponders the idea that the Morlocks might be more in control of the Eloi than he previously thought, keeping their lives simple and easy in order to essentially grow them as livestock and eat them. The beauty of the Eloi is now corrupted for the Time Traveller—it’s simply a mask for a reality that is unimaginably dark. This passage suggests, too, that one consistent thread among all humans is a propensity for exploitation: first the Victorian rich exploiting the poor, then the Eloi exploiting the Morlocks, and now the Morlocks exploiting the Eloi. This points to a much more violent and evil picture of humanity than the Time Traveller, who thinks of Weena as human because of her goodness, has been willing to accept.

It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change. Only those animals partake of intelligence that have to meet a huge variety of needs and dangers. So, as I see it, the Upper-world man had drifted towards his feeble prettiness, and the Under-world to mere mechanical industry.

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker), The Eloi , The Morlocks
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the Time Traveller’s most lucid explanations of how he thinks natural selection has created these two races of people. Victorian humans were (relatively) smart and strong because they had to contend with adversity. Perversely, the Victorian elite’s strength and cunning allowed them to create a society where other people’s labor ensured that elites never faced adversity, which caused them to degenerate into a race that could be conquered by the very people who once served them. While Victorian elites often considered themselves to be genetically superior to the poor, Wells defies this explanation, suggesting that in the long view of history, genetics are malleable and power and “superiority” shift. The elites ruled the poor, in other words, because of circumstance and not biological superiority—thus, circumstance was then able to take them down. This is also another powerful argument for fear as a productive feeling, rather than solely a negative and destructive one. While many people would wish for a life free from fear, Wells argues that without fear we would cease to be recognizably human.

Chapter 11 Quotes

So I travelled, stopping ever and again, in great strides of a thousand years or more, drawn on by the mystery of the earth’s fate, watching with a strange fascination the sun grow larger and duller in the westward sky, and the life of the old earth ebb away.

Related Characters: The Time Traveller (speaker)
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

After the Time Traveller escapes from the Morlocks, he accidentally sends the time machine into the future instead of back to his home in the past. Ever curious, he keeps going despite his mistake, wanting further knowledge about the fate of the earth. This passage makes clear, again, the human place in the scale of history—the Time Traveller is moving so fast into the future that human presence is irrelevant or even absent, and natural processes are the only visible phenomena. Wells also bases many aspects of his time travel passages on physics and planetary science—the constellations, as far as we know, really will be unrecognizable in the future, the sun will expand but weaken, the planet will cool, and the air will thin. Thus, just as Wells’ vision of the Eloi and Morlocks is grounded in Victorian social structure, his vision of the future of the earth is grounded in a Victorian understanding (much of which is still applicable) of the future of the planet. This is a work of futuristic science fiction, but it is thoroughly rooted in contemporary knowledge and norms.

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.

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.