Mad Marx: The Dangers of Capitalism in H.G Wells’ The Time Machine

In H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel, The Time Machine, the reader follows an unnamed protagonist known only as “the Time Traveler” into the distant future.  Initially the Time Traveler is met by the small and happy, though dimwitted, descendants of the human race known as the Eloi.  A peaceful society, they eat only fruit and live in the slowly deteriorating buildings of the past, which they seem to have no capability or desire to fix.  The Time Traveler notices that they have little worry in their lives except for darkness.  Their fear of the dark is due to the Morlocks, a second descendent of humanity who lives under ground, coming out only at night. The Morlocks produce the goods which the Eloi use in their day to day lives, a role they have presumably filled since they were first forced underground.  While the Eloi are described as almost childlike, the Morlocks are white and apelike, with “pale, chinless faces and great, lidless pinkish-grey eyes” (Wells 47).  The Morlocks capture and eat the Eloi when they surface at nighttime, hence the Eloi fear of darkness. Throughout Wells’ novel he highlights the potential dangers of a capitalist society, using a science fiction angle to point out the split that naturally occurs when classes are so severely separated.   Tied into these ideas are the common thoughts on the evolutionary process at the time, as Lamarckism is instituted to further illustrate the split between the classes.

The division of humanity into two different species, one the leisure class who live above ground, the other the working class who have been forced under the earth into caverns and tunnels, is Wells’ science fiction take on the ideas of Karl Marx.  Marx said that there will eventually be a labor revolt, the proletariat over running the bourgeoisie.  Wells takes this idea a step further, with the two classes becoming physically different from one another, living entirely different lives, all due to what Wells sees as “a logical conclusion to the industrial system of today” (Wells 42).   Wells mentions the current state of affairs in London, referring to, “the exclusive tendency of richer people” and the widening gap between the rich and the poor is “leading to the closing, in [the interest of the rich], of considerable portions of the surface land” (Wells 41).  The Morlocks being forced underground is just a natural step in the direction society is moving, the bourgeoisie preferring not to mingle with the labor class.

The Morlocks continue production as that has been their way of life for thousands of years, though they lose the form of human beings after being forced underground for so long.  Rather than rise up and take the surface from the Eloi, the Morlocks have become so adapted to life underground that they can’t stand to be in the light of day, so they continue to live as they have been, but they hold all the power over the Eloi, who depend on them for everything but the fruit they eat.  The Morlocks use the Eloi for meat, holding the power of the production of goods as well as fear.  The Eloi, on the other hand, have become so adapted to being useless that they have become small, round, nearly sexless idiots who wander around all day with no real purpose.  They sleep huddled in groups in old buildings for protection from the Morlocks and essentially exist as food, allowed to roam free and fatten themselves up until they are harvested.  Wells sees this as the natural next step of the capitalist system, resulting in not only “a triumph over nature, but a triumph over nature and the fellow-man” (Wells 42).  This triumph over fellow man would seem to have happened twice in this future, first when the people who became the Morlocks were forced underground and again later when the Morlocks took control over the Eloi.  In either instance it becomes apparent that a Capitalist system requires that one group have power over another.

Marxist ideas of labor revolt are seen in conjunction with the popular idea of Lamarckism of the day, which states that traits gained during one’s lifetime can be passed down to the next generation.  So, as the Eloi adapted to a life of luxury in which they were not required to have any physical strength or mental capacity, so too have the Morlocks adapted to life underground.  This physical split between the classes takes Marxism to the next level, creating a divide between the classes so deep that it has become evolutionary and can never be undone.

These exaggerated ideas that Wells uses can be traced back to the beginnings of the popularity of socialist ideals, The Time Machine standing as something of a warning of the dangers of Capitalism.  One specific instance I came across when looking for examples of labor revolt occurred the year before the book was published.  The Pullman Railroad strike of 1894 began in Chicago but went nationwide, eventually ending when President Grover Cleveland authorized federal troops to suppress the labor strike and to break up the American Railroad Union. (America: A Narrative History)  This real life example of suppressing revolt stands as a potential catalyst for Wells’ creation of the Morlocks, taking it even a step further by forcing them underground, where they were forced to continue work, but out of sight of the leisure classes.

The Time Machine reads as a science fiction adventure, but also stands as a warning against the nature of the capitalist society that had taken hold in the late nineteenth century.  Marx said that freedom is an illusion, that people are “driven by their own economic self-interest” (America: A Narrative History) and this point is highlighted by the enslavement and eventual revolt of the Morlocks.  Wells’ novel begins with the worst possible outcome of capitalism and takes it even further into a terrifying imaginary future. In doing so he seems to hope to scare us into thinking about things a little differently.


Tindal, George Brown and Shi, David E. America: A Narrative History. 5th ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1999.  Print

Wells, H.G. The Time Machine. 1895. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995.  Print.

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