evolved into two distinct species

March 1, 2017

social-vat-tim-french

H G Wells was a committed socialist and also a scientist with an active interest in evolution. His literary visions of the future were frequently shaped by both of these concerns. In The Time Machine (1895), Wells’s protagonist travels into the distant future – the year 802,701 – to discover that the human race has evolved into two distinct species, the ‘Eloi’ who live on the surface and the ‘Morlocks’ who live underground. The Time Traveller’s initial observations suggest a utopian society: his first encounter is with the Eloi, who are beautiful but useless, living in plenty and liberated entirely from work. ‘Communism’ is his initial diagnosis, as he observes that the houses and cottages that were familiar features of the Victorian countryside have disappeared to be replaced by ‘palaces’ for communal living.

The pastoral idyll in which the Eloi live resembles in several respects the utopian society depicted by the 19th-century English socialist William Morris in his utopian romance News from Nowhere (1890), where money is abolished, work is pure pleasure, and every member of society lives in plenitude. The palaces also recall the phalanstères proposed by the 19th-century French socialist Charles Fourier: utopian communities of 500-2000 inhabitants would allow for the dissolution of the individual family unit, so that marriage could be abolished and children mutually reared.

However, while at first glance the Eloi seem to inhabit a classless society, when the troglodytic Morlocks come into view – savage brutes who live underground and seem to perform the mindless drudgery necessary to keep society functioning – the Time Traveller awakens to another possibility. Has the social separation between rich and poor become so extreme that the two groups have evolved into separate species?

Class in the time machine
Matthew Taunton

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