In the novella, The Time Machine, by H.G Wells, the concept of human de-evolution is greatly explored. While the advances of mankind are briefly shown, the main focus is on the "de-evolution" of our species. While the Darwinian concept of evolution is present in the novel, in which a species evolves over time to fit its environment, the result for mankind is far more unpleasant than what is expected of a species that has only been in existence for a fraction of this planet's history.
In the year 802,701 A.D., mankind has evolved into two separate species; the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are presented as the result of living in a luxurious lifestyle, where comfort and safety are second nature and humanity does not need to evolve to fit those standards. The Eloi are stated as being, "frail, fragile, and foolish" (Wells). Meanwhile, the Morlocks are the representation of what the working class evolved into, being described as,"savage, wild, and cannibalistic" (Wells). After what can assume was a growing poverty gap, the Morlocks emerged. They prey upon and care for the Elois like cattle. In this sense, the roles of late Victorian England are switched, where the rich once preyed upon the poor is now vice versa.
First we need to examine what the Eloi and Morlocks mean. According to Dr. Ismael Saeed, author of The Socio-Cosmological Dystopia in The Time Machine, "What Wells wants to convey in this novel is that human being's animalism will reach a very high level of brutality if there is no stop for the exploitation of man" (Saeed, 448). Wells throws this fact at you like a rock. The more we progress in exploiting our fellow man for our own gain, the more animalistic we become.
The idea that human kind would evolve into something even more sinister is Wells's version of political commentary of late Victorian England. In late Victorian England, the working class was far below the nobles. They often were subjected to working in poor conditions far out of sight from public view. Theodore Hoppen wrote in his book,The Mid Victorian Generation, that, "By 1850 Britain had become the workshop of the world. Manual power lay at the heart of the production process, assisted often only by the simplest of mechanical equipment. Human beings were cheaper to install than steam engines and much more adaptable to their behavior than a self-acting steam or press" (Hoppen). Wells also gives an example, "Even now, does not an East end worker live in such artificial conditions as practically to be cut off from the natural surface of the Earth?"(Wells). Wells's vision only comes to fruition if these late Victorian conditions persist. This novella was written to capitalize on this. Well's vision was of society splitting into two distinct classes that would eventually "de-evolve" into different sub-species due to their environment. The Eloi are doomed to physical and mental shorts because they never had to fight to survive, while the Morlocks evolved through bitterness and resentment of their conditions created by the "Eloi."
Marxism is the result of the studies of Karl Marx. The main theory behind the alienation of the working class, which created the Morlocks, is, "Workers in capitalist society do not own the means -machines, raw materials, factories- which they use in their work. These are owned by the capitalists to whom the workers must sell their "labor power", or ability to do work, in return for a wage" (Ollman). In the late Victorian period, many workers were subject to poor and often unfair working conditions, which resulted in the resentment of the upper class.
John Partington, author of The Time Machine and Modern Utopia, states that the time traveler's analysis of the utopian future is a direct relation to his own time. Splitting classes and resentment of the higher classes shaped the Morlocks into the savage beings they become. But could this happen in today's society? There are gaps in today's society shaped by the uneven slit of wealth among the people. Poverty does exist all over the world and those who live in it are bound to be bitter towards the conditions they are in.
There are an estimated 46 million Americans living in poverty today (povertyusa.org) . If that number continues to rise, the gap between poverty and wealth will continue to grow. This growth is what will cause what the Traveler experienced in The Time Machine. While the conditions of human life and well-being today are very well above the standards of the Traveler's time, the conditions that caused the Eloi and Morlocks to develop do exist.
But what if we look beyond class? Beyond the poverty line of a specific nation. Around the globe there are hundreds of thousands of different cultures and races, each with their own living conditions. These conditions can be extremely different. For example, a person from central Asia would have a completely different environment from someone living in central Africa or northern Alaska. Throughout humanity we see examples of species adaptation. Africans have dark skin to cope with the extreme sunlight, while Northern Europeans have a lighter skin tone due to the sun not being as extreme in their environment. So what would the Elois and Morlocks be adapting to? In the 800,000 some odd years it take for them to evolve, the beginning of their evolution starts with the theory of Social Darwinism, a concept that Wells meticulously studied.
According to Robert Bannister, professor of history at Swathmore College, "Social Darwinism, [the] term [was] coined in the late 19th century to describe the idea that humans, like animals and plants, compete in a struggle for existence in which natural selection results in "survival of the fittest."" (Bannister). The Time traveler himself is portrayed as a Social Darwinist in the beginning of the novella. He believes that society and civilization will continually advance, but he is wrong. Once he observes the Elois and the Morlocks, he becomes distraught. He views the "utopian" society he has travelled to as "the sunset of mankind"" (Wells). "Therefore evolution does not lead to the "perfectability" of a species, as it is generally perceived, but to the increasing adaptibility and complexity of the species." (Saeed, 448). Wells thinks of the communal living and triumph over nature as the ultimate downfall of the species, as we become lazy and uninterested in a world we have already completely conquered.
In conclusion, the threat of mankind reverting into the dystopian society of the Eloi and Morlocks is very real. Conditions presented in The Time Machine do reflect many aspects of modern society and without changing them, Wells' vision of the future will take place in some ways. Without correcting these flaws in our society, we are no better than the Eloi and Morlocks, as we will not learn from the mistakes of our ancestors. The gradual decay of society and mankind is a very real threat.
Bannister, Robert. "Social Darwinism." Social Darwinism Swathmore University Publisher. Web. 15 Sept. 2015
Frankel, Robin. "Shadows of Light." "Shadows of Light." N.p., 16 Oct. 2014. Web 20 Sept. 2015
Hoppen, K.Theodore. The Mid-Victorian Generation 1846-1886. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998. Print.
Ollman, Bertell. "What Is Marxism? A Bird's-Eye View."What is Marxism? N.p. N.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.
Partington, John S. "The Time Machine and a Modern Utopia: The Static and Kinetic Utopias of the Early H.G. Wells. Jstor.org The Penn State University Press, 2002. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.
"Poverty USA/ What is Poverty?/Where is the Poverty Line?" Povertyusa.org N.p., N.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.
Saeed, Ismael M., Dr., and Azad H. Sharif. "The Socio-Cosmological Dystopia in The Time Machine." www.iasj.net N.p. N.d. 12 Sept. 2015.