February 03, 2015
In 1901, Herbert George Wells wrote a number of articles called Anticipations. At the time, these articles were somewhat controversial in nature because he gave the world his honest opinions on how the world would probably look in the future if the human race continued on the linear path it had chosen. One of the most interesting and important parts of Anticipations concentrated on how scientific advancement would have massive, unforeseen, and negative implications on society.
It is on the fledgling shoulders of this idea that H. G. Wells wrote the first novella that confronted and explored the idea of time travel in 1895. The Time Machine.
H. G. Wells novella asks the question how would society develop and culminate if technology continued to move relentlessly forward? We will discover as we journey through this essay that H. G. Wells had a very strong inclination towards human degeneration and that ultimately, thousands of years into the future, the disadvantages of technology in relation to life would be mankinds’ ultimate downfall.
I will concentrate on the two sub species in the novella, the Eloi and the Morlocks, and argue that the absence or loss of mechanisation has run concurrently with a human loss of empathy, emotion and intelligence and left a world that has no purpose, suggesting that a life made simple is a life without meaning.
Throughout the novella there is a theme of futility, a negative interpretation portrayed by Wells of a future doomed because it is based on the developing ideals of technology. The time traveller states in chapter 4, “Things that are now mere dreams had become projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward, and the harvest was what I saw! It seemed to me that I had happened upon humanity upon the wane.”
My interpretation of this is Wells is speaking through the novella’s character and saying the developing world that technology of his time would grow and become more than the human mind could fathom, the consequences of which only future generations could possibly come to realize. If we look at science during the time of the novella’s publication and compare it to today’s technology, a mere 100 years into the future and we will see the huge strides that we have made are almost unimaginable. In the novella, the time machine travels to the year 802701, over 800800 years into a future we cannot imagine. One can understand the pessimism of Wells and why he could imagine the demise of humanity because of the overwhelming power of technology at mans’ disposal. “The ruddy sunset set me thinking of the sunset of mankind. The true civilising process that makes life more and more secure had gone steadily on to a climax”.
Indeed, what the time traveller has arguably discovered when he arrived in a desolated future is that technology is ultimately pointless and mankind will reach a point where we cease to evolve and ultimately decay into obscurity. The goodwill shown through man’s technological enterprise will eventually be his downfall. Mankind will eat itself.
The two sub species in the novella, the Eloi and the Morlock have a co-joined yet separate existence. The Eloi live without direction, they awake at sunrise, play, lounge, eat and go indoors when the sun begins to set and are childlike in stature and mentality. The time traveller describes these people as having a “hectic beauty”. The time travellers description of these diminutive people further enhance the readers impression that they are childlike, “Presently, a little group of eight or ten of these exquisite creatures were about me. It came into my head that my voice was too harsh and deep for them. There was a certain lack of interest I might have expected in them”.
They are excited and aroused by an innocent curiosity that lasts for but a moment. Their childlike features and ways, together with their lack of intelligent communication is arguably a commentary on Wells opinions of what the future of mankind might look like. A step back, a degeneration, “Were these creatures fools? I had always anticipated that the people of the year eight hundred and two thousand odd would be incredibly in front of us in knowledge, art, everything”.
The disappointment of the time traveller is almost tangible, whose expectations of a future full of intellectual abundance are at once obliterated upon his first contact with these humans of the future. Historically, it is accepted that the natural order of human existence is for event, both good and bad, to naturally precede event, for humanity to learn logically and instinctively from its mistakes and therefore advance through the use of intellect and natural selection. If natural selection had chosen this species to survive into the future then of course the future held nothing but decay and the human species would eventually expire.
The Morlocks for their part in the novella, although ape-like in appearance are primitively productive. They appear to have a purpose to their futile lives, which is to cultivate their food supply, the Eloi, in order to feed and survive. Strangely, the Eloi know their fate yet seem to be completely detached from the situation. It is of course a humanistic trait to fight when there is immediate danger, to show sustained courage in the face of adversity, which was a human characteristic the Eloi had somehow lost.
In contrast to the Eloi, who were weak, fragile and submissive, the Morlocks were antiquarian brutes whose appearance reflected the most carnivorous of animalistic natures. Yet despite their fearsome appearance, they were ineffective as individuals and so would hunt in packs to give themselves a better chance of survival and a better chance of catching their prey. The time traveller explained what was like to be surrounded by the Morlocks, “I was caught by the neck, by the hair, by the arms and pulled down. It was indescribably horrible in the darkness to feel all those soft creatures heaped upon me”.
This scene in the novella illustrates how the Morlock worked together, how aggressive they were in the pursuit of their goal and how they used their appearance and presence to their advantage. When comparing the two species, the Eloi are not fruitful, are not productive or colourful in nature or personality. In contrast, the Morlocks are productive because they have the desire to survive. What is more, their terrifying appearance dramatically gives them a personality unique to themselves. The Morlocks eat to live but they do not appear to enjoy living. The Eloi however, live a simple life without showing any signs of wanting to develop, without really knowing the life they are living or why they are alive. Both species are living a life awash with struggle, the difference between the two species is the Eloi do not realise they are struggling to survive whereas the Morlock are willing to fight to survive.
H. G. Wells used the character of the time traveller to illustrate that the human obsession to accumulate knowledge, despite the risks, can often render them blind to the damage they are doing to the world around them and blind to the consequences their actions have on their fellow beings.
The world the time traveller discovered in the future brought into question his scientific expertise as to whether the incredible and brilliant effort of inventing the time machine was worth the time travellers endeavour, especially when it revealed the future held nothing but degeneration and desolation.
The Eloi and the Morlocks illustrated that something had gone drastically wrong in the past regarding evolution on countless levels. Mistakes have obviously been made, both technologically and during the process of human evolution. The Eloi in particular, display no desire to pursue personal growth or show the desire to want to better themselves for a better future. Their detached way of living without thought suggests they have reached the pinnacle of their existence.
H. G. Wells illustrated his ideas in Anticipations, specifically scientific exploration and the implications it may have on society, by suggesting diverse offspring of the human race may become simplistic, animalistic and without philosophical thought, as illustrated by the Eloi and Morlocks, who are both devoid of empathy towards each other and are both blissfully unaware of what they mean to each other and the world around them.
The futility of the situation depicted in the novella is one that suggests the intellectual minds and the technologically gifted along with those who struggle for existence appear to have the same futuristic fate, that is to say, their futures will degenerate into nothingness, a sobering thought in this developing age of technological brilliance.