The human Characters at the start of the story represent some of the types of people with whom Wells himself interacted. Each of these Characters-editor, journalist, medical man, psychologist, silent man, and argumentative man-is, in his own way, skeptical of the nameless time traveler’s journey. Only the narrator expresses belief in the traveler’s story. The traveler himself is presented as an extremely patient inventor, interested not only in scientific investigation but also in philosophic thought. The time traveler’s efforts to understand the mysteries surrounding him are expressed in exemplary logical style, but they demonstrate how easily the human mind can be deceived by appearances.
When the traveler arrives in the year ad 802,701 he first meets the Eloi, beautiful but frail-looking little people whose dress and appearance make no noticeable distinction between male and female, adult and child. They spend their time wholly in play, showing no sustained interest in him or in any type of work. His only permanent companionship comes from Weena, a young woman whom he rescues from drowning in the Thames while the other Eloi simply look on helplessly. From her he receives constant gratitude and devotion.
At first the traveler believes that fear has been completely eliminated from this world of the future, but soon he recognizes the Eloi’s fear of the dark. He later associates this with the apelike, light-hating Morlocks, who emerge at night to capture Eloi and carry them below.
Two vivid passages describe the traveler’s encounters with the Morlocks. He explores their subterranean dwellings, and later starts a forest fire to save himself and Weena. When Weena is lost during the fire, the traveler’s only desire is to recover his stolen machine and return home. After a final battle with the Morlocks he succeeds in thrusting the machine forward in time and escaping.
Throughout the book the voice of the time traveler discourses on the problems that over-stratification of society can create for humanity, both for those who live in too much luxury and for those who are compelled to work under subhuman conditions. Wells is often criticized for the pervasive pessimism of his work, and there is certainly a great pessimism in The Time Machine. There is also, however, the philosopher’s hope that if people become aware of the kind of future they are creating, they may change its direction. There is a further sign of hope in the narrator’s closing comments, after the traveler has disappeared into an undefined future. As the narrator looks at the flowers Weena has given to the traveler, he recognizes that “gratitude and mutual tenderness” had survived in the future, even though many other moral values had been lost.