Literary Culture of The Time Machine
Our culture imagines the branding of the genre “sci-fi” as having content that is relevant towards a futuristic setting that involves science, super powers, innovations, aliens and also space and time travel. According to Samuel Johnson, “The idea of time travel has for many years exercised the ingenuity not only of SF writers, but of scientists and philosophers as well; neither the equations of quantum physics nor the rules of logic have managed definitely to prove or to disprove the possibility that this most paradoxical of SF concepts may some day be realized” (201). One of the most famous time travelling novels was H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine which was published in 1895. Thoughts and ideas of time travelling existed before Wells’ work, but it was him who formulated the idea of time travelling as using a “machine”. The dictionary defines the term “literature” as writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays. Through the different genres and subgenres that H.G. Wells has created in The Time Machine, proving that this literary work belonging in “high culture” will support its relevance in the tradition of Western literature.
According to Peter Firchow, H.G. Wells “does not only appeal to a recently created audience which, like himself expected its fictions to be a least as technologically sophisticated as the articles on technology and science in its newspapers. He also appeals to an audience that, like himself, had been nourished on a rich fare of travel literature, especially travel to exotic places and often – as with Livingston and Stanley – under conditions of extreme hardship and danger” (124). The Time Machine can draw in a larger audience through its adventurous theme of travelling to foreign places. Even in its title, we can draw out even more ideas that can relate to mechanics or engineers from the word “Machine”.
In the Science Fiction Studies, Veronica Hollinger deconstructed the idea of a time machine and states that, “To write about time travel, therefore, is necessarily to have performed a kind of reading, to have interpreted time in order to structure it as the “space” through which a traveler can undertake a journey” (201). Hollinger argues that time travel is a “sign without a referent” and that the time travel story provides literary metaphors of our ideas about the nature of time. This is also useful to show how evident the concepts are not normally grasped or produced from readers. The new idea of time travelling would have to come from educated thoughts and/or a “high culture” of educated society in Western literature.
Part of the plot in The Time Machine also emphasizes a “prophetic warning of the decline of the human race and this “devolution” is the apparently direct result of the class divisiveness of Wells’ contemporary social situation” (Hollinger 202). The story involves travelling to the year 802,701 A.D. and encountering beings called the Eloi and Morlocks. The society and class structure are clearly divided in this culture. This vision of a disturbing future could have been a message from the English author to the society so it can change its ways. If not, his story about the Eloi can be a clue of advice to warn them about their troublesome ways in society, government, etc. through these metaphors from time travelling. The idea of what is yet to come, whether it is through social class or government, shows some of the criteria that may be required to fully understand the message Wells tries to get across to audiences. Being knowledgeable and educated in the modern society helps showcase the theories in the plot.
From Michael P. Lee’s Reading Meat in H.G. Wells, he states that humans are a “vigorous animal” and yet we try to divide ourselves to become more civilized. He states that...
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