Saturday, February 03, 2007

Why travel time to talk about the present?

I think “The Time Machine” is less about the mysteries and science of time travel than it is a critique or warning of the consequences of industrialization. Wells warns about the potential harms of subjugating the working class and also of eliminating challenges from life. He sees a future where the poor or working class have been banished from the surface of the earth and are no longer even seen to be the same species as the upper class which was allowed to stay on the surface. The Eloi are Wells' comment on the “easy life” of the elites and what happens when survival is not challenged. Although Wells wrote this book over 100 years ago, I think the novel's lesson is even more relevant in today's world. The evolution of humans into lesser beings is also the subject of the movie Idiocracy (which I mentioned in an earlier comment).

It interested me that Wells foresaw the impact that industrialization would have on people's attitudes toward melanin. Before industrialization, most workers were agricultural and developed darker skin. In contrast, the elites stayed inside most of the time and had pale skin. As a result, pale skin was seen as a sign of success because it meant you did not have to do real labor out in the hot sun. Wells saw that now the majority of the working class was kept in factories during daylight hours and rarely saw the sun. He speculated the continuation of this, and progressively worse working conditions, would make the working class very pale skinned. The Morlocks in The Time Machine represent the projection of this 800,000 years into the future, but we can already see some of what Wells “predicted.” Tan skin is now viewed in our culture as being more attractive than pale skin and I think what Wells saw happening during the industrial revolution has a lot to do with it. In the modern age, a lot of labor (particularly factory work) is done inside, while the elites, with their free time, are able to stay outside and get a tan.

Depicting the future working class as barely resembling humans seems like a comment on hazards already known to be caused by inhumane working conditions, like rickets for example. Rickets was a disease that riddled young children working in factories in England, because they did not absorb enough sunlight to produce Vitamin D and suffered the painful growth deformities caused by the deficiency. The Morlocks are Wells' warning of what the future might be like if such practices are not changed. Wells' time traveler guesses that “thousands of generations ago, man had thrust his brother man out of the ease and the sunshine.” By this he is hypothesizing that the working class was pushed underground, but it could also be seen as Wells describing the thrusting of workers into factories where they get no sunlight.

Even though I think Wells was commenting on English society at the end of the 19th century, it is understandable why he set his book in the future. Time travel allowed him more freedom to hypothesize about what current practices might lead to, and at the same time protected him against being labeled as too critical of contemporary society.

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Blogger Devaansh Shah said...

I agree with your analysis that the author intended to show the ill effects of industrialization, by exaggeratting them in the context of the future. But I also think that by making the time travaller dependent on technological things for his escape, Wells also seems to attribute a degree of positiveness to the Industrial Revolution.

2/04/2007 7:42 AM  
Blogger Caroline Gibbs said...

I also agree that Wells touches upon the fine line drawn by industrializations ability to produce positive and negative effects. To view the book as wholly a critisism or endorsement of the Industrial Revolution would be wrong, and as such, Wells instead challenges the reader to consider industrialization on their own.

2/05/2007 10:47 AM  
Blogger Tim McNally said...

Wells is definitely making a critique of the industrial revolution in his book. Its very interesting to think about how he chose to use a time machine to portray the outcome of society through heavy industrialization. We could be reading too much into this but I believe to a certain degree that Wells wanted his readers to sit back and think about the positive and negative effects of industrialization.

4/30/2007 4:08 PM  

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