Herbert George Wells, The Time Machine
First published as a serial novel between January and May 1895 in “The New Review”, and in the same year as a book edition.
Who is worth more? The Shopping Queen or the malnourished seamstress in Bangladesh? The gourmet or his waiter? The factory owner or the factory worker? Does it even make sense to use a person’s value as an argument when talking about changes in society? In his novel “The Time Machine”, H. G. Wells therefore does not philosophize about the misery of the English lower class in order to provoke a political change. Instead, he points out to an unconcerned upper class what their lackadaisical mindlessness might lead to.
Let’s take a look at England at the end of the 19th century. The farming society is a thing of the past. The city has become the norm. It is growing wherever there are factories or mines where the countless workers earn their daily wage. Barely enough to keep body and soul together, the wage for working at a factory allows only for a small, miserable accommodation in a dark alley. While the rich and famous live on the wide avenues in impressive houses with high ceilings and bright gas lighting, the workers vegetate in narrowness, filth and darkness.
From this late 19th century, the time traveler with his time machine travels directly to the year 802,701. A huge time span, in which cultures can collapse and new ones can emerge. As a matter of fact, humanity is not the same anymore. Impressed, the time traveler describes the paradise recreated in this happy future. Wherever he looks, young and beautiful people are busy doing nothing. Singing, dancing, playing. A communist idyll, in the time traveler’s eyes. The Eloi, as he calls them, seem to know no property, no struggle for sheer survival. They live in peace; all the necessities are provided. Eternal happiness is theirs to keep. But appearances are deceiving: The Eloi have no interest in their collective existence. They are unconcerned by the fate of others. The time traveler sees a woman nearly drowning, surrounded by people laughing and chatting, completely unaware of the woman fighting for her life.
The Eloi have only once concern: They are afraid of the dark. The time traveler soon learns why: darkness is where the Morlock lurk. They live in underground tunnels during the day and only surface at night. The Morlock’s arduous labor is what enables the Eloi to live carefree. The time traveler believes to recognize his own two-class society. Yet, everything is different! Horrified, he sees that the Morlock feed off human flesh. The Eloi are their livestock which they fatten and slaughter!
With this novel, H. G. Wells pronounced a warning to his contemporaries. For him, it is clear: Only those who suffer through troubles and dangers train their bodies and minds. The author applies the at the time quite modern principle of Social Darwinism: An upper class indulging in idleness becomes superfluous for the community’s well-being and thus threatened by extinction.
Wells wrote his “Time Machine” at the age of 29. His novel was the first to feature the act of time travel, which is not the only notion introduced by Wells which entered our conceptual world. In 1914, in his novel “The World Set Free”, he coined the term “atomic bomb”, after which he spent the rest of his life fighting for the unification of the entire world in one state in order to prevent the use of such a terrible bomb. He failed, and after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, dedicated his last work to a new human species which would replace the failed humanity and create a new and better world.