Darkness descends and the Time Traveller returns from the hills to find a place to sleep. As he approaches the garden with the Sphinx statue, he realizes that his time machine is gone. Panicking that he is stranded in this strange future, the Time Traveller runs around looking for the machine, all the while knowing intuitively that it has been hidden somewhere.
It’s ironic that the Time Traveller criticized the beings for their trust and stupidity, when the Time Traveller’s own lack of appropriate caution leads the time machine to be stolen.
The most unsettling aspect of the time machine being hidden is that the Time Traveller knows that the beings he met do not have the physical strength or intellectual curiosity to move the machine, so some unknown power must have done it. In a frenzy, the Time Traveller runs through the bushes, catches a glimpse of a small white being that looks like a deer, and then storms into the large building where the beings sleep. He wakes the beings up and some of them laugh while others seem frightened. Not wanting to revive the feeling of fear, which the Time Traveller assumes has been long forgotten among these people, he leaves the building and has his tantrum outdoors, where he feels himself touching strange beings while he cries in the darkness.
This passage shows the complexity of the role of fear in the book. Lack of fear seems to have made the beings helpless, and The Time Traveller believes that inciting the beings’ fear could be dangerous, because he doesn’t know how they act when afraid. Still, it is the Time Traveller’s own fear and panic that leads him to do an irrational and even ill-advised thing in waking the beings up and scaring them. If fear really is central to preserving human capabilities (like intelligence and curiosity), then it is also, paradoxically, an unpredictable force that can cause people to behave irrationally and dangerously.
When day breaks, the Time Traveller feels more rational, and he decides to find the hiding place of the time machine. He uselessly questions the beings, and when they cannot answer him he has the impulse to hurt them, though he acknowledges that this is foolish. Some grooves in the grass where the time machine had landed direct the Time Traveller to the Sphinx statue, and he becomes convinced that the time machine has been hidden behind a hollow panel in the pedestal, though he cannot open the panel to retrieve it.
The Time Traveller’s impulse to hurt the humanlike beings is one that he knows is irrational and wrong. The fact that he feels it, though, nods to the fact that even a human so intelligent and sophisticated as the Time Traveller still has brutal and animalistic impulses. This passage highlights the contradictions in the Time Traveller’s psyche: on the one hand, he wants to resort to animal violence, and on the other, he is interpreting a set of complex clues to determine the location of his missing time machine.
Two of the beings approach him and he gestures to the panel to see if they can open it, but they behave oddly, as though the Time Traveller is being rude. He asks several more beings, who give the same response, and in anger he grabs one of them and drags him back to the pedestal. The being seems terrified and disgusted. Then the Time Traveller beats on the panel and thinks he hears a chuckle come from inside. After hammering the panel with a rock, the Time Traveller finally gives up and decides that the better strategy is to figure out how to retrieve the time machine by learning the ways of the society in which he has found himself.
The Time Traveller has expounded at length about how these beings are stupid and irrational because they lack fear and are never challenged in their lives. However, the Time Traveller, presented here with a frustrating obstacle, does not (as we might expect based on his rhetoric) immediately rise to the challenge and find a rational way to cope with it. He is intermittently furious and violent, which complicates the validity of his own beliefs on the value of fear and frustration, although he does eventually take the approach of finding the time machine through gathering knowledge.
The Time Traveller returns to the large building and feels that the beings are avoiding him, though after a few days they returned to normal. The Time Traveller begins to pass his days learning the language, which he realizes is extraordinarily simple, and exploring the landscape. In the course of his explorations he discovers that the landscape is dotted with what look like wells, though there is no sign of water in them. The wells, the Time Traveller realizes, are connected to the tall towers that appear here and there on the hills, which leads him to surmise that the wells and towers are an elaborate ventilation system for something underground.
This is another example of the Time Traveller encountering the world through intellect and curiosity. His observations about the infrastructural components of the future allow him to make a reasonably good guess about the function of various structures, which is an act of intelligence that the beings of the future could never perform. The realization that the language of the future beings is very simple compounds the Time Traveller’s sense that the future has been one of extreme intellectual decay.
The Time Traveller begins to realize that his explanation that this society has all its needs automatically met was unsatisfactory (for example, their clothes always looked fresh but there was no sign that anyone would mend them if they tore). There was no machinery, appliances, or workshops, but the Time Traveller remarks that their sandals must have been made by someone. The Time Traveller wonders, once again, who could have taken his time machine and why.
As the Time Traveller spends more time in the future, he realizes that his initial ideas about this future society do not hold up to his more fine-tuned observations. This process of forming a hypothesis and then testing it through observation and then forming a new hypothesis based on the new observations is an exact mirror of the scientific method.
The same day, while watching the beings bathe in the river, The Time Traveller notices one of them drowning. He rescues her, and afterwards she attaches herself to him, adorning him with flowers to express her gratitude. Her name, he learns, is Weena, and she seems to him childlike but benevolent. She follows him everywhere from then on, except when she is too tired to continue walking with him. She cries in despair every time he leaves her, and her love for him, he observes, begins to make this new world feel like home.
Thus far, the Time Traveller has not had much of a personal relationship with the beings of the future, and his observations of them have been rather clinical instead of emotional. But by saving Weena (an act of kindness), and through Weena’s reciprocal kindness and gratitude, the Time Traveller develops an emotional connection to her. Their mutual kindness and identifiable friendship makes the beings seem more human than before, suggesting that kindness and emotion are, in addition to intelligence and curiosity, integral characteristics of humanity.
Weena’s behavior makes the Time Traveller understand that fear is still a presence in this society. Weena is afraid, in particular, of all kinds of darkness, and this leads the Time Traveller to observe that all of the beings seem to be afraid of the dark. The Time Traveller remarks that he did not learn the lesson of this fear yet—while the beings all gather together to sleep, the Time Traveller continues to sleep outdoors by himself, even though he had awakened once with the feeling that something was touching him.
Through his closeness with Weena, the Time Traveller is able to make even more fine-tuned observations about this future society. He learns from her that the beings are afraid of the dark, but (perhaps out of condescension) he does not take that fear seriously. This is another example of the Time Traveller, someone who values fear, not exhibiting adequate caution to keep himself safe.
The morning that he awakened with something touching him, the Time Traveller recalls, was before he met Weena. He had seen a grey being dash away, and he looked towards the hills and thought he saw ghosts, or something that looked like a white ape. He pushed this from his mind for a while, until he could no longer.
While the Time Traveller was not able to put together the evidence of the Morlocks (the creatures he is now seeing) at the time, he can see the clues he missed in retrospect. His willingness to admit to his failure of observation is also an important part of the scientific method.
One morning the Time Traveller is seeking shelter from the heat, and he finds in a ruin a chamber that is dark and cool. When he enters, he sees a pair of eyes watching him. The Time Traveller immediately connects this with the pervasive fear of the dark in this society, but he moves towards the being anyway. As it runs away he notices that it looks like a small white ape.
This is a moment in which the Time Traveller must decide whether to respect his curiosity or fear more, and he chooses curiosity. He is rewarded for this in that he learns what the being looks like by moving towards it. Throughout the book, Wells shows that gaining new knowledge always involves risk.
The Time Traveller follows the ape into the darkness and feels around until he finds one of the wells he had observed before. He lights a match to see if the ape had descended the shaft, and he sees it moving deeper into the darkness. The sight of it makes him shudder, and, for this reason, he resists the conclusion that he must ultimately make: these apes are human.
While the Time Traveller immediately recognized the kind, peaceful beings as human, it takes him longer to accept this conclusion about the apes. This, along with the Time Traveller’s initial assumption that this society had solved the social problems of the past, reflects the Time Traveller’s bias towards a positive view of humanity. In order to truly understand what is happening in the future, he must overcome this assumption and acknowledge that depravity and kindness are both inherent to humanity.
From this experience, the Time Traveller concludes that the human race has evolved into two separate species: the beings he knows, and these underground creatures. This leads him to wonder what the interconnection is between the two species. He knows that in order to understand he must descend into the well.
The Time Traveller returns to Weena without entering the well that day, but he continues to puzzle over the creatures until he realizes their economic significance. Before revealing it, the Time Traveller backtracks to explain that the appearance of the creatures, particularly their large eyes, makes him think they are unable to see in the light—they have evolved to be solely subterranean. This leads to the conclusion that there is a whole society underground, one that does all the work to make the above-ground beings’ lives so comfortable.
The Time Traveller continues to refine his observations, surprising himself when he realizes that the underground beings do the work that enables the above-ground beings to live so comfortably. This is a very different conclusion than his initial one, that technology had somehow enabled a life without needs. This passage suggests that technology alone cannot solve human problems, and cannot correct human tendencies toward selfishness and cruelty.
The connection is then made to the Time Traveller’s own era—the above-ground beings are the descendants of the ruling class of the Time Traveller’s society, and the underground beings are the working class. A difference that was once purely social, the Time Traveller surmises, has now caused the species to diverge in two. The Time Traveller reflects on the fact that many laborers in his era work in shadowed spaces and live without much natural light, while the rich seek estates that are more and more remote from others—the divergence along class lines makes sense in a way that is horrifying.
This is the first full glimpse Wells gives of the connection between Victorian England and the society of the future—the rigidity of Victorian class distinctions combined with natural selection has turned the human race into two different species, and, even thousands of years in the future, the descendants of the poor are still being exploited. This casts a pall over the notion that the above-ground beings are inherently peaceful and kind, and shows how entrenched Victorian class distinctions seemed to Wells.
This changes the way the Time Traveller thinks of the society he has encountered. While he once referred to it as a Golden Age because of its peace and prosperity, he now understands that the above-ground beings live as well as they do through exploitation of those living underground. The Time Traveller warns that this explanation could still be wrong, but it is the most plausible one he found. He then reveals the names of the two species: the Morlocks live below ground, and the Eloi above.
While the Time Traveller tends to prefer to focus on the positive aspects of humanity (intelligence, kindness, curiosity, etc.), he has a harder time grappling with the negative characteristics that are also inextricable from human nature. At this point, the Time Traveller can no longer ignore that the society he has encountered has not solved the social problems of his own time, but has rather exacerbated them cruelly.