Social Structure Dystopia:
A Theme Analysis in The Time Machine
Nurul Kamilah Mat Kamil
Mr. S. Wise
October 20, 2010
H.G. Wells was considered a visionary at his time, and the father of science fiction. Through his didactic writings, he made predictions of the future, including the evolution of social structure. In The Time Machine, he predicted the human race would evolve into two different species, the Elois and the Morlocks, due to a capitalist social system that is taken to extreme levels. Human beings no longer appreciated knowledge, and language had regressed to a “sweet and liquid tongue” (29). Wells believed that this was a consequence of social stratification. However, Well’s pessimistic view of the future may not necessarily be true because his writings were influenced by his background , his negative perception of human nature and his pessimism of the future of science and technology.
Born to a shopkeeper and a housekeeper, Wells’ impoverished family background is one of the reasons that compelled him to write about class struggles. “Again, the exclusive tendency of richer people … is already leading to closing, in their interest, of considerable portions of the surface of the land.” (57). In 1700, 80% of the population of England earned its income from the land. A century later, that figure had dropped to 40% as more people turned to manufacture (“Lecture”). This resulted in a new class division: The factory owners and the workers. The workers were mistreated by their employers and they gained only as much as the surplus value. It became evident that the strikingly different lifestyles of the workers and upper class were made more prominent by the Industrial Revolution (Lovett).These conditions further spurred Wells’ belief in the outcome of social stratification as put forward in his novel. In contrary, these conditions weren’t permanent as social mobility was possible, given opportunity and education. Wells was able to break out of his own class to become a teacher and had a brief involvement in politics. Despite the misery prevalent in many quarters and the chaos created by periodic "busts," the majority of workers during the second half of the 19th Century were better off than their parents (Brian). Living standards were improving with the industrial revolution. When urbanization began, the government had to make improvements to the living conditions of the people. Expansion in international trade also increased the nations’ income to make further investments in production and improvement of living conditions. Later on, Wells was involved in the Fabian society which supported Marxist views. Wells was heavily influenced by the society and this is evident through the protagonist, the Time Traveller, who first thought that the perfect place of the future was a result of a Communistic rule as he muttered “Communism” (53). In fact, at that time, there were many other writers who wrote about class struggles, such as Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer, who could have influenced Wells’ writings. Karl Max believed that a working class revolution must occur because the class that maintains rule forcibly over other classes by means of economic oppression is considered a dictatorship rule (“What”). To make a Communistic view seem like the ideal doctrine, Wells had to show that the Capitalist system will bring about negative impacts in the future. For this purpose, Wells had chosen the Elois and Morlocks, as the model for a Capitalist social structure dystopia. Meanwhile, political and social revolutions in Russia and France have inspired many social movements in other parts of the world in favour of Communism and a new world order. However, not all of these revolutions brought about positive changes. Not only was there bloodshed in the process, but the new societal order wasn’t stable because total equality cannot be achieved as power is still abused by a single individual. Communism is an unstable system, which, inevitably, descends into a totalitarian government, Stalinist, fascistic or neo-nazi (Cantu). In short, Wells’ background of poverty and emergence of class division during the Industrial revolution as well as influence from other writers and international events had as much influenced The Time Machine, and the pessimistic view he has on social structure evolution.
Wells also had a strong conviction that human beings’ selfish nature overpowers his other values - “Man had been content to live in ease and delight upon the labors of his fellow man, had taken Necessity as his watchword and excuse, “(71). To Wells and many Communists, this seemed unjust as the wealth has to be redistributed to ensure fairness among the nation. Then, there will be no discrimination or oppression. Slogans of social justice appealed to the “saintly side” of human beings, and “noble thoughts of putting oneself before others” (Pilgrim). Ironically, even Communism can be consumed by the human beings’ inherent selfish nature that Wells claimed was the root of the Capitalist social system problem. The nature of power is such that it corrupts minds and absolute power corrupts absolutely. An example of how communism can concentrate absolute power over a whole nation, in the hands of a single man, would be the Stalinist Russia (Pilgrim). It is evident that although Communism seemed like the more ideal system, yet, it is not any better than Capitalism. In fact, it can incur other problems, because there is a need to control every person in the state to ensure that everything is all fair, and when one person is appointed to do so, power eventually tips in favour to that single person. Eventually, the Communist government develops into an autocracy or dictatorship. Until now, many Communist governments have fallen, and have not lasted as long as other forms of government. It is clear that Capitalism's cycles may be irrational and painful, but they proved in the long run less destructive than vain attempts to control every aspect of large modern economies (Brian). Britain herself didn’t become a Communist state, despite the emergence of social stratification due to Capitalism because people became more aware of human rights. Wells’ effort to make a new world order a goal of Allied policy resulted in a declaration of human rights issued by a committee of public figure under his chairmanship that helped pave way for the less sweeping human rights declaration of the United Nations in 1948 (Wagar). Human beings’ emotional intelligence does not regress with the advancement of technology. In the novel itself, Wells expressed his hope that man had not completely lost his virtue - “even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man” (102). Ferdinand Tönnies, a German sociologist suggested that human beings relate to each other as a community, in which people are bound together by common traditions and ties of affection and solidarity (Radcliffe-Brown). In fact, emotional intelligence becomes more important as our societies become more complex. The human being’s capacity for emotion does not enable a human being to relate to one another unemotionally. Human beings have an incredibly rich and complex emotional life that provides value to our experiences, motivation to our actions, and a dimension of communication beyond spoken words (Jackson). As the pace of change is increasing, a person's cognitive, emotional, and physical resources will become increasingly important. And this will improve both productivity and psychological well-being (Amar). As long as human beings still have emotional capacity, a society won’t collapse. In a nutshell, Well’s belief of the overpowering selfish human nature in his criticism of Capitalism is counter-argued with the fact that human rights are eventually being recognized and human emotional intelligence does not regress with a progression in technology .
In addition to that, Wells’ also had a pessimistic view of the future of science and technology - “I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly toward comfort and ease,” (87). At his time, Wells saw the birth of many new inventions that facilitated the Industrial Revolution, such as the cotton-spinning devices and the steam engine. Most of those inventions came about for industrial purposes, and nothing more. Most people were optimistic about the further milestones they can reach with Science at that time, but to Wells, technology only benefitted a certain group of people not all classes. “The rich had been assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and work.” (87) However, it can be argued that the reason for the adoption of innovations by larger groups is the example of higher status groups, which are reference groups for other people. Successful innovations, which affect the majority of the people of a society, tend to follow a pattern of diffusion from higher to lower status groups (Radcliffe-Brown). At Wells’ time, Science and Technology was at its infancy and Wells had not lived long enough to see the wonders Science had done for mankind. Science has helped human beings understand themselves more than before. It is an integral part of human development. It seems almost impossible to think that all our discoveries will come to finality. Auguste Comte, a French philosopher and sociologist, advanced a "law of three stages," according to which mankind progresses from a theological stage, which is dominated by religion, through a metaphysical stage, in which abstract speculative thinking is most prominent, and onward toward a positivist stage, in which scientific theories based on empirical research come to dominate (Radcliffe-Brown). This is because not only does the human brain develop with advancement in Science, but at the same time, the developing human brain also spurs further advancement in Science. Presently, technology is quickly evolving. From discoveries of new disciplines of science like nanotechnology and biomedical science, human beings are making their way to a prosperous knowledgeable society. With the increasing capacity of information storage and transfer via the internet, almost everyone has access to knowledge within a click of a button. Wells’ pessimism of the future of Science and technology is due to the fact that during his time when new inventions were being made, the technology only benefited an exclusive group. However, Science, in truth, has benefitted human beings more than hindered human beings in the long run as it is an integral part of human development.
In conclusion, although the premises of social structure and science were explored with such imagination and insight, an individual’s writings are more often than not influenced by his perceptions and beliefs. Due to emotional capacity, most of one’s life experiences, like upbringing and social events, as well as environment would profoundly affect creative thought processes. Of course, people are generally entitled to their own views, so it is up to the readers themselves to be critical of the message conveyed in a novel, as to whether or not it is plausible or not.
Word count: 1786
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