The Time Machine by H.G. Wells - A Marxist Interpretation

Image result for the time machine
Traveling in time means almost nothing in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. Well, it's a fun way to tell a story. But past that, time traveling is merely a literary conceit, a way to tell a story that considers social, economic, and political realities of 19th-century England.

In the future, the time traveler discovers that the era's captains of industry are exploiting the working class. This owner class, the Morlocks, are a race of men living underground that have mastery over machines. The Eloi--meaning "the chosen"--are simple folk that lives above ground and don't do all that much other than eat. The Morlocks allow the Eloi to fatten up and then they eat them. But if the time traveler was at all aware of British life, he wouldn't have been all that surprised.

The owners of industry in the 19th century weren't eating people. At least, they weren't out-and-out cannibalizing them. But working conditions in the factories of the 18th and 19th centuries were so bad, that they might as well have been cannibalizing the workers.

Because industrialization gave England a technological and military edge over the non-European world, there was simply no motivation to set limits to the operation of English factories. Laissez faire capitalism reigned, the workers be damned.

Child Labor & Exploitation of the Worker

Consider that children were put to work in factories and mines as early as the age of four. And work was from dawn till dusk: 

“Very often the children are woken at four in the morning. The children are carried on the backs of the older children asleep to the mill, and they see no more of their parents till they go home at night and are sent to bed.” Richard Oastler, interviewed in 1832.

Children were overworked and fell asleep on machines and were often badly injured or killed from falling into machinery. Even if they weren't physically caught in machines, children were often deformed from working long hours in unnatural positions. Workers lost fingers and limbs. The air in the factories was bad, causing diseases and cancer.

Not working was not an option. Wages were so low that workers couldn't get ahead; they lived hand to mouth. And because of the enclosure acts, the countryside was no longer an option. Mortality rates in London soared during the industrial age, but the population of London continually stayed on the rise since work was available.

Meanwhile, the captains of industry became incredibly wealthy by exploiting a captive and expendable workforce. As cancer and work accidents consumed the workforce, a new body filled the previously vacated position.

Time Perspectives

Because The Time Machine is now over 120 years old, we have the privilege of considering the real future of H.G. Wells' time traveler. Are working conditions better in the 21st century? It depends on which societies we examine. The industrial revolution is ongoing. In post-industrial nations like England and the US, people still work in factories but sanctions protect workers. The economy of post-industrial societies is diverse, meaning that the industrial sector isn't the only thing going. But in nations that are still in the nascent stage of their own industrial revolution, work conditions worthy of the Eloi still exist. Wages are low, hours are long, and workplace risks are high.

So far, as much as we've traveled into the future, industries have remained a consistent source of woe to the disenfranchised among our human population. 

When Wells' time traveler travels even further in the future, he finds a devolved version of humans. They live as crabs, deformed predators scuttling slowly across a primordial land, still looking for a mark to exploit but totally unrecognizable from the human species.

Wells warns that by exploiting humans, we lose our humanity. And we lose it fast--immediately. No time traveling machine is needed to see the fruit of exploiting our fellow man.

Escape from New York by John Carpenter

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