The Time Machine Summary and Analysis
by H.G. Wells
The TT treks with Weena through the woods, hoping to reach the White Sphinx by the next morning. They gather sticks for a fire that night. At night, about a mile before a safe clearing, the TT spots some hiding Morlocks. He decides to distract them by setting fire to the sticks and leaving them there. He takes Weena through the woods, the fire spreading behind them. Soon, the Morlocks are on him and Weena. The TT lights a match and scares them off. Weena seems to have fainted, and he carries her with him. The action has disoriented him, and he is now lost. He decides to camp out, and gathers more sticks for a fire. He fends off the Morlocks with the light from his matches, punching one when it blindly approaches him.
The TT nods off, and wakens when the Morlocks are on him again. His matches are gone and his fire has gone out. He grabs his lever and strikes them. They flee, but the TT soon realizes the forest fire he previously set is the source of their fear. Unable to find Weena, he takes his lever and follows the Morlocks until he finds an open space. The TT strikes the Morlocks until he understands that they are blinded by the fire, and he does not need to impair them any further. He does not locate Weena among them. He endures the rest of the agonizing night, feeling it is some kind of nightmare.
In the morning, when the fire dies down, he cannot find Weena, whose body he believes was left in the forest. He restrains his desire to massacre the Morlocks. He limps on to the White Sphinx, feeling lonely without Weena. He discovers some loose matches in his pocket.
As frequently occurs in adventure stories, the hero makes an ill-planned decision that ends up in tragedy for one of his allies. The TT's forest-fire may thin the ranks of the Morlocks, but in Weena he loses his sole companion. Once again, he is returned to a primal state of emotion. Without her, he feels the basic emotions of loneliness and mourning, as well as the "strange exultation" of violence when he fights the Morlocks. And, of course, the chapter centers around fire, one of man's most important discoveries.
However, to call Weena one of the TT's "allies" is not entirely correct. Though the most intimate contact we witness between them is a kiss at one point and their sleeping next to each other, she fulfills the conventional role of the hero's romantic interest. Though more childlike than womanly, she is the TT's sole source of companionship. As he notes, her affectionate nature makes her seem more human than she really is. If Wells did not include her in the story, the TT's violence against the Morlocks would seem less justified; as it is, he attacks them to avenge her death. This clever device makes us overlook the underlying well of the TT's loathing for the Morlocks: classism. As we see repeatedly, his membership in the ruling class bonds him with the Eloi and makes him resent the Morlocks' reversal of class-based power. His love for Weena humanizes him as much as it does her, and allows Wells to comment on Victorian classism with greater subtlety.
The TT returns in the morning to the hill he had perched on his first night, and reflects on how wrong his initial assumptions were. He thinks the human intellect had committed suicide by creating a perfect state in which the rich had "wealth and comfort" and the poor had "life and work." Such a perfect balance can exist for only so long, he believes, before it is disrupted--in this case, by the Morlocks' need for food, which they find only in the Eloi.
He naps, then heads down to the White Sphinx. He is surprised to find the bronze pedestal has been opened, and the Time Machine is inside, cleaned and oiled. He throws away his weapon and goes inside. Suddenly, the bronze panels close up, and the TT is trapped. The Morlocks laugh as they approach him. The TT feels safe, knowing he has only to reattach the levers on the machine to make his exit. However, his matches require a box to light. In the darkness, he fights them as he gets into the machine's saddle and reattaches the levers. Finally, he pulls a lever and disappears.
Without fire or his weapon, the TT is reduced to the basics--hand-to-hand combat and human ingenuity. He must reattach the levers on the Time Machine while fighting the Morlocks, once again combining modern science (fixing the machine) with primitive violence (he even head-butts one of the Morlocks). It is also ironic that the White Sphinx is his last location in 802,701 AD. A symbolic and literal barrier for the Time Traveler, the sphinx also blocked entrance for the Greek hero Oedipus. But the sphinx has a direct relationship to the Time Traveler's plight; a symbol of futurity and of man's submission to God, the Egyptian Sphinx faces the rising sun god Ra each day in worship. The TT, on the other hand, must in some ways defy God by embracing rational science as he gains mastery over time, and he must also break into the sphinx to escape from the future and go back in time (of course, here he is let in as a trap, but he must still defeat the Morlocks inside). Finally, as has been previously noted, the sphinx still holds power in the future, much as it did in the ancient past.
The TT explains his theory again on how the Eloi and Morlocks evolved. Although it has been dissected before, it is worth stating again what it means to the concept of evolution. Wells argues that evolution is not necessarily leading mankind to a perfect state (utopia) as many believe, or if it is, then our utopian goal will soon backfire and become a dystopia (an anti-utopia). The direct significance his argument bears on Wells's own time is that the rich are gradually becoming useless, while the poor are being driven to revolution by their need to survive.
To make his Marxist ideas palatable to his Victorian audience, Wells refrains from presenting direct rhetoric against class divisions--indeed, TT believes the division of rich and poor is a "perfect world," reflecting his classist Victorian values. Instead, Wells provokes anxiety in his upper-class readership. If they continue in their ways, not only will they become stupid and lazy, but their slaves will rise up against them.
The Time Machine Essays and Related Content
- The Time Machine: Major Themes
- The Time Machine: Essays
- The Time Machine: E-Text
- The Time Machine: Questions
- The Time Machine: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- H.G. Wells: Biography
- The Time Machine Summary
- About The Time Machine
- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-2
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-10
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-Epilogue
- Related Links on The Time Machine
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
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