Cultural Materialist Reading of The Time Machine

In this essay, I will be analysing the future society in The Time Machine from the cultural materialistic perspective. Cultural materialism is defined by Williams (1977: 5-6) as ‘a theory of the specificities of material cultural and literary production within historical materialism.’ The Time Machine is a novel written by H. G. Wells and in this he visualises the separation between the workers and capitalists to the extreme. I will be focusing on the differences between these two groups, how they are portrayed, and also on individuality in the future world described in this novel. I will also point out some similarities and differences in the current fiction.

When the time traveller travels into the future, he sees that society has changed significantly. He quickly realises that the future population is not at all how he expected it to be. He expected the future population to be very intelligent, however he realises that after thousands of years of evolution, with people bettering their living conditions, there was no need to better any further. ‘Humanity had been strong, energetic, and intelligent, and had used all its abundant vitality to alter the conditions under which it lived. And now came the reaction of the altered conditions.’ (Wells 2016: 35) In this new world, there were creatures named Eloi. In this society, a sense of community was the most important thing. No one had any personality and we can see the future humans as identical in a sense, because they all look the same and seem to think and act in the same way. There are however few occasions where that shows not to be quite true. It could be said, that when the Time Traveller came, he broke the ideology of this new world. When the Time Traveller meets Weena, one of the Eloi, she quickly becomes fond of him and the Time Traveller becomes fond of her. And in this example, we can observe the separation from the crowd for the first time. While the rest of the Eloi are terrified to go outside at night, Weena, although she is also scared, is willing to overcome her fear for the Time Traveller and for herself as well – to experience adventure and separate herself from the crowd. ‘Weena grew tired and wanted to return to the house of grey stone. But I pointed out the distant pinnacles of the Palace of Green Porcelain to her, and contrived to make her understand that we were seeking a refuge there from her Fear.’ (Wells 2016: 66)

At first, Eloi can be viewed as capitalists, because they are living in a peaceful world and nothing really threatens them. They have the opportunity to live their life however they please. They are not restrained by anything and they are free from any responsibilities. However, as we read the story further and find out about Morlocks, our view of them may change. The Morlocks are the second half of the population and they live underground, because they are repelled by light – they are restrained by the darkness. They are the polar opposite of Eloi. Eloi are friendly and peaceful, whereas Morlocks hunt and kill Eloi in order to survive. We can also look at it in the opposite way – viewing Morlocks as superior above Eloi. Even though they don’t have the luxury of being able to live in the daylight, Morlocks are terrorizing Eloi by killing and consuming them. ‘These Eloi were mere fatted cattle, which the ant-like Morlocks preserved and preyed upon— probably saw to the breeding of.’ (Wells 2016: 69) From this point of view, Morlocks are superior and restricting Eloi from living a life that is free from any problems.

Comparison to The Time Machine can be seen in the current fiction as well. When we look at Doctor Who for example, specifically on the episode called The End of the World. In this episode, The Doctor and his companion Rose travel far into the future and land in a spaceship, where wealthy and powerful beings gather to watch the Earth burn. The beings viewed this special occasion as a means of entertainment, unlike Rose who was very saddened by it. We can perceive this as an ideology of the wealthy upper class that lost touch with compassion and humanity. However some beings on this ship accepted it as the end of the road for human kind, because humans accomplished everything they possibly could – ‘Mankind has touched every star in the sky.’ (Lyn 2005) This is situation is similar to the one in The Time Machine, where humans also achieved everything after thousands of years of evolution.

If we look closer at the question of the human form, we can see some similarities between Doctor Who and The Time Machine. Lady Cassandra was portrayed as the last living pure human in the universe, however her body looked completely different than we would imagine. She had more than 700 surgeries in order to extend her life. She managed to transform into something completely else that doesn’t resemble the human form at all – she had to adapt in order to survive. This reflects an ideology of our time that did not exist in the Victorian society – an obsession with plastic surgeries. Our idea of human improvement is through plastic surgery and it reflects in the current fiction. We can say that this episode of Doctor Who portrays the idea that in order to survive, humans have to transform themselves to adapt to the future conditions, unlike The Time Machine, where the idea of human survival was more portrayed through the transformation of conditions under which they lived. However we can also view it as being quite similar, because in both Doctor Who and The Time Machine people had to adapt in order to survive, just through different routes. In The Time Machine it was more through nature and in Doctor Who it was more through human alterations.

Lady Cassandra

In conclusion, science fiction from the Victorian society and current fiction have more similarities than I initially expected. The way people pictured distant future is however very different. The futures in The Time Machine and Doctor who both include human evolution, but in different ways that are perhaps more similar than we think.


Wells, H. G. (2016) The Time Machine [online] First Avenue Editions. Minneapolis: Lerner Publishing Group. available from <> [27 April 2020]

Williams, R. (1977) Marxism and Literature [online] 1st edn. Oxford England: University Press. available from <> [27 April 2020]

Lyn, E. (2005) Doctor Who : The End of the World [online] available from <> [27 April 2020]

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