The Time Machine

The Time Machine: When Progress Becomes Destructive College

In his early novel, The Time Machine, H. G. Wells is critiquing the Victorians’ fears of evolution. Charles Darwin’s theories were cutting-edge in Wells’ time, and they terrified many of the upper class. What if humans devolve to the point where the class roles become reversed? What if our eventual triumph over nature results in a dulling of human intelligence? And worst of all: what if humankind becomes extinct? These and other questions plagued the Victorians, providing H. G. Wells with material for his first novel.

Victorian scientists took Darwin’s theory of evolution, and created their own theory of devolution. The fear was that if evolution was possible, then humans must still be evolving. What could that mean for the future? Wells answered that question with his theory of degeneration following security. In his prediction of the future he shows us the Victorian upper class, continuing on their path of idleness, and devolving into small, weak, helpless creatures like the Eloi. “The too-perfect security of the Upper-worlders had led them to a slow movement of degeneration, and to a general dwindling in size, strength, and intelligence” (57). The lower class, after centuries of living in...

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