The Time Machine Summary

H. G. Wells

The Time Machine

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

The Time Machine Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

H.G. Wells’s science fiction novel The Time Machine, published in 1865, tells the story of a man who invents a time machine and travels to distant times on earth. Wells is credited with first popularizing the idea of the time machine and, although he explored the concept in an earlier short story, this novel is a classic of science fiction literature.

As the story begins, the narrator introduces a man known only as The Time Traveler. He is an English scientist and inventor living in Richmond, Surrey in Victorian England. The narrator recounts a lecture given by the Time Traveler at a dinner at his house. Time is simply a fourth dimension, he tells them as he gives a demonstration with a tabletop, scale model of a time machine. He tells the guests that he’s built the real machine, and at the next week’s dinner, The Time Traveler becomes the narrator and takes over the story. In the new narrative, The Time Traveler tests his real machine by traveling far into the future. He lands in 802,701 AD, and the world has changed dramatically. Cities are gone, and everything is quiet.

He stumbles on humans in this new time. They call themselves the Eloi, and they are small, childlike adults without any sense of drive or discipline. They live among the ruins of futuristic buildings, doing no work and eating a fruit-based diet. The Time Traveler speculates that their lack of curiosity is the result of technology conquering nature long ago and allowing humans to evolve with a deep sense of safety. Intellect and strength are no longer required for survival, and in the Eloi, they are both absent.

The Time Traveler returns to the site where he left his time machine only to find it missing. He searches for it and concludes that it has been dragged underground by something unknown. He finds a structure resembling a sphinx with heavy doors, and he is glad that he removed the machine’s levers before leaving it.

Night falls, and he is attacked by what seems to be a different type of humanoid being. These are the Morlocks, an ape-like race that comes out only at night. He finds machinery and structures inside their dwelling that make the world above ground possible and he theorizes that humans have evolved into two different species. The leisure classes of humans are now the Eloi, and the working class has become the Morlocks.

He begins to explore the Morlock structures looking for his machine, and he finds that they are less like working class and more like ranchers. They eat the Eloi and are responsible for keeping them docile. He theorizes that danger is the cause of human intelligence and with no real threat to the Eloi, they have lost the intelligence of humanity at its peak.

When he returns to the Eloi, he saves one Eloi woman, Weena, from drowning when no one else seems to care. In return, she makes him a crown of flowers and develops an innocent, fond relationship with him. He vows to find the time machine and return with her to his own time. He takes her on an expedition to one structure he sees off in the distance, and while there, he finds a box of matches.

These matches allow him to fashion a weapon so that he can enter the Morlock structure and save his time machine. The journey back is too much for Weena, and they stop overnight in the forest. They are attacked by the Morlocks. Weena faints, but The Time Traveler escapes when the fire he started to distract the Morlocks overtakes the forest and Weena and the pursuing Morlocks are lost.

The Time Traveler is devastated. The Morlocks set a trap inside the sphinx, placing the time machine out in the open not realizing that The Time Traveler will use it to escape. He reattaches the levers and travels roughly 30 million years into the future where he finds a dying earth. He watches crab-like creatures feed on what appear to be large butterflies in a world covered in simple lichen under dim light. He continues jumping ahead, watching the sun grow larger and dimmer, and the last living things on earth dying out as the earth grows colder.

This experience overwhelms him and he jumps back to his time, roughly three hours after he left. He describes his experiences to an incredulous dinner party and shows them strange wilted flowers from Weena. The original narrator takes over the story from here. He returns to the Time Traveler’s house the next day and finds that he is preparing for another trip. Although the Time Traveler promises to return in a short while, according to the narrator it has been three years since he left.

One of the main themes in The Time Machine is the idea of a separation of classes. At the time of its writing, Victorian England had a sharp division between the leisure classes and the working classes, something the Time Traveler believes he has found at the beginning of his journey into the society of the Eloi and the Morlocks. Upon investigation, he finds that this class division is more akin to humans and domestic animals.

The idea of science is highly present in the novel as well. It is not just about building a cool machine and exploring. Throughout the novel, the Time Traveler demonstrates a scientific way of thinking that is careful and methodical. He observes and makes logical deductions. From there he is able to make a plan.

The Time Machine is an enduring science fiction classic indicative of the emergence of modern scientific thinking. It is also a careful examination into the motivations of individuals and society at large, one that leaves us with the question of where humanity is heading if we stay on our current path.