The Time Machine

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The Time Machine Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on H. G. Wells's The Time Machine. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of H. G. Wells

Wells was born into a working class British family and his education was erratic—though Wells read passionately and broadly, his father sustained an injury that meant that, instead of continuing with school, Wells was put to work in various apprenticeships to support the family. These apprenticeships, particularly one as a draper that Wells loathed, were deeply influential to his lifelong political critique of the unequal distribution of wealth, a critique evident in The Time Machine. Wells, who had an interest in chemistry and biology, eventually apprenticed himself to a chemist and earned a spot at a university where he studied biology with Thomas Henry Huxley. Huxley, known as “Darwin’s Bulldog,” was a passionate proponent of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which is also a notable presence in The Time Machine. Wells’ university years were formative to his politics (he became passionate about socialism), devotion to science, and his interest in writing. In fact, by the end of his time at university, he was beginning to see writing as his central occupation: he wrote biology textbooks and short stories, one of which (“The Chronic Argonauts”) eventually became The Time Machine. As a writer, Wells wrote novels that defined what are now tropes of the science fiction genre (the notion of using a machine to travel through time, for example, is his), as well as acclaimed realist novels, nonfiction works about science and history, and political tracts. Wells was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times, and is widely known as one of the “fathers of science fiction.”
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Historical Context of The Time Machine

The two historical events most influential to The Time Machine are the Industrial Revolution and the publication of Charles Darwin’s 1859 magnum opus about evolution, On the Origin of Species. The industrial revolution, which lasted about a hundred years starting in 1740, transformed British manufacturing processes by introducing the widespread use of factories and machines to a society that had until then made products by hand at a relatively small scale. This created vast amounts of new wealth and improved living conditions dramatically across British society, but it also created staggering income inequality and miserable, or even dangerous, working conditions for laborers. The impact of the industrial revolution on The Time Machine is evident in the use of a machine (instead of, for example, magic) to travel in time, and also in its concern with the working conditions of the British poor and the growing divide between the poor and the British elite. Darwin’s theory of natural selection (which Wells studied as a biology student at university) is also a major influence on The Time Machine. Instead of imagining uninterrupted progress for future humans, the intricacies of natural selection allowed Wells to think of how humans might evolve based on the presence of technology. As Darwin credited fear and adversity for prompting growth in animal species, Wells was able to imagine that if technology, instead of human effort, were used to meet human needs, humans could actually evolve into less sophisticated beings than they once were.

Other Books Related to The Time Machine

The Time Machine is among Wells’ best known novels—others include The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and The Island of Doctor Moreau. As a foundational novel of the science fiction genre, The Time Machine is also related to the novels of Jules Verne (including Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) and the science fiction journals edited by Hugo Gernsback (Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, Science Fiction Plus, among others). These men were known, with Wells, as the three “fathers of science fiction.” The Time Machine is also a novel dedicated to British social reform, and, in particular, to emphasizing the destructive power of the British class system. In this way, The Time Machine is a close relative of the work of British novelist and social critic Charles Dickens. In particular, Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol shares the themes of time travel and exposing the evils of class divisions.
Key Facts about The Time Machine
  • Full Title: The Time Machine
  • When Written: 1894-1895
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1895 as a serial novel
  • Literary Period: late Victorian
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Setting: Victorian-era England, and England in the year 802,701
  • Climax: When the Time Traveller escapes the Morlocks by taking the time machine into the future
  • Antagonist: The Morlocks
  • Point of View: Though the book has a first person narrator who is not the Time Traveller, the story is mostly told as the Time Traveller’s first person account of his voyage.

Extra Credit for The Time Machine

Science Fiction or Breaking News? In 1938, filmmaker Orson Welles adapted H.G. Wells’ novel The War of The Worlds into a radio drama that was broadcast across the United States. The radio drama, about aliens invading earth, inspired widespread panic across the country, since many listeners did not realize they were listening to a drama rather than a news bulletin.

Social Justice. Among Wells’ social commitments was antiracism, and in 1906 he wrote a book called The Future in America that contains a chapter, called “The Tragedy of Colour,” about the struggles of black Americans. In order to write the book, he met with Booker T. Washington. Wells also condemned ideas of racial purity, the death sentence of the Scottsboro Boys (African-Americans accused of raping a white woman), and racism in South Africa.