Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Time Machine: Colonialism and the Necessity of War

While reading and watching The Time Machine, two themes leapt out at me more than any others. First of all, as alluded to in previous posts, the colonialist themes were surprisingly explicit—as Kai points out in his post, The Time Machine is most definitely a product of its… well, times. In the book, the Time Traveler claims of his first interactions with the Eloi that he “felt like a schoolmaster amidst children” (45), and upon his first exploration he seats himself upon a throne-like chair from which he can survey the entire land (47). Similarly, he repeatedly describes his idea of a paradise as one in which nature has been wholly subjugated. In the 1960 movie adaptation, the parallels between historical British colonialism and The Time Traveler’s attitude toward the Eloi, particularly Weena, are acknowledged quite clearly. In the intimate glow of the campfire, he tells her, “I’m sorry I was angry with your people; I had no right to be. No more than if I had visited the island of Bali in my own time…we’ve had our dark ages before, and this is just another one of them. All it needs is for someone to show you the way out.” History isn’t my strength, but it seems to me that the interaction between Weena and the Time Traveler illustrates the most ignorantly optimistic of colonialist fantasies—the colonized people as ignorant and childish, but receptive, beautiful, and worshipfully adoring. Before the arrival of the Time Traveler, the Eloi do not even possess fire, the ultimate key to human progress according to the legend of Prometheus.


(This telling conversation with Weena begins at about 6:10)

The second theme I’d like to discuss is most clearly illustrated in the film, so I’ll focus on that medium in my discussion. From the beginning, George the Time Traveler’s motivation for building his time machine seems driven not only by intellectual curiosity, but by a desire to escape the entire concept of war. His initial travels land him in WWI, WWII, and a surprise nuclear holocaust in 1966, and he increasingly despairs of mankind as a whole as he tries to race forward to a time when war is but a distant memory.

He finds it, and finds it lacking. I’m not saying that George’s actions against the Morlocks were unjustified, but there’s something bitingly ironic about the fact that his main contribution to the world of the Eloi is exactly what he was trying to escape: aggression and war. For all his desire to find a peaceful paradise, he essentially seeks to recreate his own world, which, despite the fact that he sought to escape it, he still thinks of as the height of progress. Is this a story, then, of a man coming to terms with the justification for violence? Is the film, with its (compared to the book) exaggerated emphasis on the prevalence of war and George’s colonialist attitude, meant as a criticism of the potential hypocrisy of that mindset? Despite the parallels between the detonation of the bomb in 1966 and the fiery death of the Morlocks, the morality of George/The Time Traveler’s near-genocide is not explicitly addressed in either the book or the film, but that sort of thematic juxtaposition cannot be accidental.

** Page numbers come from my edition of The Time Traveler, which probably won’t match up with any of yours. ISBN: 0-449-30043-9

4 comments:

tonyon said...

the Evil Empire: religion, armies, monarchies and politicians...are the causers of all wars

tonyon said...

the Evil Empire: religion, armies, monarchies and politicians...are the causers of all wars

tonyon said...

religiou are actually infectioning Internet with its "enterprises" of text process: discu, worpre, blospog, etc, etc, etc. religion=Inquisition. And now can repeat commentaries

tonyon said...

religiou are actually infectioning Internet with its "enterprises" of text process: discu, worpre, blospog, etc, etc, etc. religion=Inquisition. And now can repeat commentaries

Post a Comment