Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Allegory and Structure in The Time Machine

ENG 396 Week 3: Time Travel

For a story of exploration, Wells’ The Time Machine features the interiors of buildings quite prominently. The Time Traveller begins in his laboratory, eats strange fruit in the ruined palace, discovers a museum, and narrowly escapes from the trap of the White Sphinx. Through all this, he first marvels at the pastoral purity of the environment, and ends with a cathartic glimpse of the self-consuming Eloi-Morlock ecosystem.

The role of the palace near his landing zone is notable as the place of first encounter. It is “dilapidated” yet “picturesque” (26), an artificial version of the Traveller’s impression of the future world. “I went out through the portal to the sunlit world again as soon as my hunger was satisfied” (28). Indeed, it is a sort of Eden, satiating the Traveller’s knowledge in the form of the Eloi language, an architectural appearance inspiring historical speculation, and the symbol of the sumptuous fruit. May we interpret the Traveller’s experience as representative of a version of original sin? His ingenuity, adventurousness, and self-remarked Westernness give him the role of a candidate for Western humanity sent into the future, or at least a far distance in geographical 4-space, to live through a fundamental experience of the Christian past.

This interpretation of the Traveller’s conception of original sin is supported from his departure into the waxing twilight, the “sunset of humanity,” which is analogous to the Fall. The innocence of the Eloi cannot last as the Traveller peers into the darkness to spot the first Morlock. With the realization of bloodshed incurred between these two disparate human descendants comes the identification with the brothers Cain and Abel. If the Eloi are allowed to serve as the offering of meat, then has the future God condemned the surface world for its original sin, characterized by offerings of fruit, useless elegance of form, and the decay of the works of humanity? The Traveller cannot fathom the full expanse of the subterranean pipe system, home to the Morlocks who have sinned without repent—the underground is Hell in this aspect. The Palace of Green Porcelain features great fossils, mummies, and infernal machines, and Weena, the embodiment of Eloi innocence and purity of moral judgment, detects the slope in the floor of the gallery (72). This second palace is a slow bridge from the surface world of humanity, littered with the husks of its works, to the mysterious underground hell, and the transition mirrors the Traveller’s change in character from one of fear to one of subdued violence.

The Traveller’s final discovery of his time machine behind the bronze doors of the White Sphinx is a death-trap which he escapes by virtue of his role as the human representative. It is an attempted Crucifixion of the messenger for humanity, who is of course only a man and has tasted the fruit of the palace. But the Traveller is allowed to survive yet not return, unless his disappearance in the present is a return, his Resurrection, into the future. The Traveller, not entirely Christ, is at least a Christian envoy who is not entirely saved. His representation of humanity, and Wells’ fatalistic revelation of the end of days, paints humanity as unsaved regardless of its works, its technological or social advances.

H.G. Wells The Time Machine, Constance Penley “Time Travel, Primal Scene, and the Critical Dystopia,” Time Machine (1960), and Terminator (1984).


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