Arguments and Counter-arguments presented by “Time Machine”
“The Time Machine,” first published in 1895 by H.G. Wells is a classic science fiction novella that has captivated the hearts of young readers since its publication. It has spawned numerous films and television adaptations, but the most iconic contribution this book has given to the literary world is popularizing the term ‘time machine.’ Most importantly, H.G. Wells narrative defined the science fiction genre during a time when science as establishing itself as the dominant creation of man and ambassador of technology. There were many myths and preconceived notions that were shared by readers during the 1890’s concerning technological advancement, science, and humanity, all of which Wells comments on with “Time Machine.”
There is a view among literary scholars that through the use of the title “Time Machine”, H.G. Wells not only popularized the term but normalized the concept of science of time travel, as in he made it believable. There are two sides to this concept though. In his article, “Time Machine: in search of time future and time past,” Peter Firchow describes how H.G. Wells established himself as the ‘Godfather’ of science fiction with this publication using this method of making the very extreme fictitious concept of time travel appear natural and scientifically viable.
He notes that the “relaxed “gentlemen’s clubroom” atmosphere of the frame narrative, with its pipes and slippers and cozy fire, is also designed to lull readers into suspending their natural inclination towards disbelief. It all seems so perfectly ordinary and real. In this way, Wells is able to domesticate the mostly wildly fantastic elements of his narrative–most notably the “fact” of time travel by first embedding them in familiar and mundane surroundings (p123).” The subtle surroundings H.G. Wells sets the plot in makes the theme seamless and believable. The counter to this argument is that much of the characteristics of 19th century society actually doesn’t translate well to modern day readers making the plot actually more outlandish not less, because it is very hard for a reader to fathom this type of technology in the period in which the book is set.
Another argument has to do with how the time travel in the book is explained and how believable the concept is to the reader. Again, this is something that varies depending on the era in which the book is read. This concept that Wells simplifies the complexities of science and makes the unthinkable believable is very true, but more so for the readers during the 1890’s and not necessarily the readers of today. Contemporary readers receive the concept of time travel in the book more as metaphor and the science is less thrilling. Wells does not use to many technical explanations for what’s happening in the book, and at moments even implies that his science may be faulty for example when the protagonists openly says, “Very simple was my explanation, and plausible enough – as many wrong theories are! (Wells, Pg. 49).” It’s moments like these that points to Wells own personal resentment of technology na d how it presents itself as a matter of fact (Semansky, p3). At the same time while contradicting the wisdom of science, there are moments when Wells makes the science appear genuinely possible.
There are moments in the book where he takes abstract out-of-this-world ideas and explains them simply in ways that are almost reasonable and understandable. For example, when he is describing how time travel works and he is talking about the difference between dimensions, he notes that “”There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it (Wells, Pg. 3).” Here Well’s explanation for how time travel works is seemingly believable and it takes advantage of what at the time was a common faith in science, and this faith still exists today. What is even more notable is the fact that Wells makes the reader comfortable with the outlandish concept of time travel by surrounding it with established scientific theories, such as Darwin’s concept of evolution.
The other side of viewing Well’s use of science in the book as believable and factual is the belief that his science is very comic strip and adventure book-like for modern times. As Higdon notes ,Written in a plain style (Wells once said, “I write as I walk because I want to get somewhere”) and in the fantasy traditions of Plato and Swift, The Time Machine has a young narrator who greatly admires the older, adventuresome protagonist who is known only as the Time Traveller (Higdon, p1).” He describes the nature of time travel with poetic abstract terms and nothing finite or technical, which is what contemporary readers of Science fiction have become more accustomed to. Despite the fact that Well’s work is what sparked the genre, his use of science arguably in the book can be viewed as falling short of its intent to transcend and thrill readers beyond it’s period of publication.
Many scholars believe that the moral of the Time Machine is that with advancements in technology comes the increasing desire for mankind to self-destruct. In order for one to take this approach to the book, they have to view the Eloi people as inferior to the protagonist. In his article, “Critical Essay on The Time Machine” Chris Semansky notes that The Time Traveller’s initial response after landing in the future but prior to meeting the Eloi, underscores this thinking. He worries: “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 (Semansky, p3) ?” Here we see that the protagonists equates cruelty and overwhelming power with a regression, and not evolution of mankind.
This view can be countered by the concept that a world without intellect is a less complicated and more peaceful world. Wells hints to this concept in the epilogue when the protagonists contemplates over the nature of all that he has seen and he says, “And I have by 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 (Wells Epilogue, Pg. 147).” The final argument one that Wells directly put on its heels is the belief that the future will be more technologically advanced. This is a view that the book negates throughout. The Time Traveler, committed to Victorian belief in progress, had expected to find “wonderful advances upon our rudimentary civilization.” Instead, he found a strangely attenuated world inhabited by the Eloi, who resemble diminutive human beings and strike him as being “consumptive,” “indolent,” “easily fatigued”—in short, a disillusioning disappointment.
In sum “Time Machine” was a milestone in literary history because it single handedly ushered in the science fiction genre during a time when science was establishing itself as a testament to man’s supremacy over nature, and Western culture had blind faith in all the contemporary scientific developments. Wells originated what now has become a tradition within the genre to question the benefit of science for humanity. When the main character travels to the end of existence to see that man has become extinct by his own reliance on technological advancement, it has a very dark and eerie effect on the reader. Where the book fall short is that its popularity has made it so iconic that for contemporary readers the plot is predictable and doesn’t have the same captivating and thrilling effect it probably had when first read by readers in the 1890’s. In essence Well’s success desensitized following generations to his literary methods.
Firchow, Peter. “H. G. Wells’s Time Machine: in search of time future and time past.” The Midwest Quarterly 45.2 (2004): 123+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 May 2010.
H. G.Wells – Stephen Arata – W.W. Norton – New York – 2009
Higdon, David Leon. “The Time Machine: Overview.” Reference Guide to English Literature. Ed. D. L. Kirkpatrick. 2nd ed. Chicago: St. James Press, 1991. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 May 2010.
Semansky, Chris. “Critical Essay on The Time Machine.” Novels for Students. Ed. David A. Galens. Vol. 17. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 May 2010.
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