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Social Realities in Science Fiction

Discuss about the Science Fiction for Narrative and Historical Context.

The Time Machine is significant in the context that the novel focuses on one of the most debated and experimented topic in present day science, thirty years before Science has ever thought of it. The Time Machine was the first full-length work of fiction of Wells, focusing heavily on the concept of time travel. In the veils of metaphor, however, Wells describes a social reality of 19th century England, or rather presents a universal social reality where there is always a strong and a weak community to create a hierarchical society (Bergonzi 2016). Wells’ narrator does not support or goes against of them; both Eloi and Morlocks possess deplorable and commendable traits. Only the Morlock and Elois are attached in a food-chain cycle. This powered-weak struggle of society is reflected in multiples of fictions, be it science or social. Another example in this point counts to be Childhood’s End.

Both the novels highlight to the social reality in different historical context. The narratives put impetus in focusing to the realities. The essay attempts to focus and highlight on the narrative structure to trace the social reality in the light of the context they are written on (Lesnik-Oberstein 2016).


To focus on The Time Machine, the approach towards the society is universal. Critics unanimously have agreed on the great literary value of the text but commentaries have widely varied. For some critics the story is mythic and deeply allegorical while others compare it with the Treasure Island or Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines as a tale of adventure that is enjoyed by readers of all age groups (James 2012). Childhood’s End similarly has been a well-received and enjoyable ‘science fiction’. However, the similarity between the fictions lies in the irony that the novels have been until this date accepted as nothing but a science fiction than a handy description of the contemporary reality and a concerned description of the substantial themes of the timeline of the contemporary century (Clarke 2012). The Time Machine deals in the 19th century social and historical context whereas The Childhood’s End focuses on the 20th century science experiments and the warlike situation of 20th century. However, in spite of belonging to two different timelines, both the novels express a concern in the crucial conclusion; the extinction of a race (Booker and Thomas 2009).

Humanity in Wells is separated into two classes, the Eloi and the Morlock; the Elois are described to be beautiful and delicate with a lazy and submittal attitude towards life. Morlocks are quite naturally the opposites of Eloi. They are hardworking, and more prone towards surviving. To put a close focus, the Elois and the Morlocks are the segmentation and the compartmentalization of the people for the two different narrators (Bergonzi 2016). The Time Machine enjoys two narrators in two different timelines; the author as the initial narrator as one of the 19th century group members when the time traveler narrates his experience and the traveler in the 802701 AD in which time he travels in (the time he relates in his story). The narrative style is similar to much of the 19th century Victorian fiction, a double narrative technique as can be seen in the predecessor novels like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. Such narrative technique is important in the plot of fictions analyzing and criticizing a social reality to put Bleak House as an example of it (Bell et al 2013). The narrative gives the author ample freedom to criticize the conventional practices of the society under the veil of allegories and metaphors. The author as the unnamed narrator at the beginning starts the story in a much simple and straightforward manner. However, the narrative subverts with the changing of the narrator when the much serious issues have been discussed (James 2012).

Narrative Technique of The Time Machine

The Time Machine focuses on the issue of grim social realities of 19th century England that was the main reason behind Wells’ taking up the mythological rather allegorical narrative of the Time traveler. To quote the traveler himself as he mentions:


So, in the end, above ground you must have the Haves, pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots; the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour...It had been no such triumph of moral education and general co-operation as I had imagined. Instead, I saw a real aristocracy, armed with a perfected science and working to a logical conclusion the industrial system of today (Wells 79).

Such was the true situation of England in the Industrial era. To focus on the social situation of the time, 19th century industrial society saw much progress in terms of social and industrial progress. The rapid spread of industrialization and the urban culture n England, the medicinal, technological, scientific progress changed many facets of the contemporary culture. With the progress of time the rich or the ‘Haves’ as wells mentions it faced a rapid growth in proportion to the society and industry. On the contrary with the boom of population the poor or the ‘have nots’ became more stratified (Starr 2015). It is the same situation that the time traveler’s version of narration puts in the time of 802,701 AD. The metaphors of Eloi and Morlock gives the author the freedom of a narrator to portray and bring up the deplorable, pathetic, despised yet feared situation of the Morlocks and the lazy, prone to comfort and the minor condition of the Elois (Wells et al 2005). However, the existence of the Elois and Morlocks resembles the theories of natural selection as J. Allen Smith mentions:

‘There is no scientific basis for the belief in natural order that everywhere and always makes for progress. Competition or the struggle for existence ensures at most merely the survival of the fittest; but survival of the fittest does not always mean survival of the best (Bell 2013).

The Childhood’s End on the other hand focuses on the much political scenario of the world war in metaphor of the Alien invasion. Contradictory to The Time Machine, Childhood’s End maintains a first person narrative and in a quite straightforward manner (Clarke 2012) narrates the invasion, the systematic approach of the aliens first in a friendly and later all consuming approach to destroy the race of humanity. Clarke quite significantly takes up the name ‘Overlords’ as the name of the Aliens that concisely sums up the attitude of the Aliens (Booker and Thomas 2009).

Social Realities in The Time Machine


The aliens resemble the mediaeval concept of the Devil in their physical features. On mythological grounds the physic of the Aliens are enough proof to abide by the terms; bending on the destruction of Humanity (Lesnik-Oberstein 2015). However, to focus on the historical context, the 1953 novel takes much of its inspiration from the World War II scenario. Arthur C. Clarke himself recounts the memory of the invading Space Ships first emerged in his mind from the Barrage Balloons on the sky of London during the World War II (Clarke 2012).  Thus the overarching and devilish image of the aliens metaphorically becomes equivalent and tangible image of the destructive War which eventually was responsible to the loss of much life. Initially War especially the allied forces initially lead people to belief a war is for the safety or social security and the opinion of the mass was ignored. However, the Overlord’s in the text resembles much of the lords in the sates of England, America or Russia:

Your race, in its present stage of evolution, cannot face that stupendous challenge. One of my duties has been to protect you from the powers and forces that lie among the stars—force beyond anything that you can ever imagine (Clarke 32 ).


Moreover, the humanity allies with the forces of Aliens to create a better state which eventually comes back to them as a serious, critical issue. The third person narrative gives the author the freedom to analyze and criticize the social situation and the role of the president/ generals in destroying the humanity in a so-called ‘unconventional’ manner (Tsurumi 2015).  Another important point the fiction highlights on is the issue how a much powerful and strategically inclined power might influence and use the lesser powers to destroy the minor itself. The Overlords are no exception to that. Even in a world of fiction, Clarke, as he highlights proves that the characteristic of power   always remains the same; it can never be a friend to the minors, nor can it be selfless enough to help the Others which would eventually come and might turn against them. Such incidents were regular phenomena on political ground during the World War II  (booker and Thomas 2009).

Social reality as reflected in the childhood reality is much similar to the situation and crisis every common man faced during the war. However the present day visualizations have changed much of the plots and the themes of both The Time Machine and Childhood End. However, though the timeline is much different both the texts focus on the same issue: the plight of human situation under hierarchy and the bureaucracy (Hughes 2001).  

Reference:

Bell, Frances, et al. "Science fiction prototypes: Visionary technology narratives between futures." Futures 50 (2013): 5-14.

Bergonzi, Bernard. The Early HG Wells: a study of the scientific romances. University of Toronto Press, 2016.

Booker, M. Keith, and Anne-Marie Thomas. The science fiction handbook. John Wiley & Sons, 2009..

Chang, Iris. The rape of Nanking: The forgotten holocaust of World War II. Basic Books, 2012.

Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s end. Vol. 4. RosettaBooks, 2012.

Hovanec, Caroline. "Rereading HG Wells's The Time Machine: Empiricism, Aestheticism, Modernism." English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 58.4 (2015): 459-485.

Hughes, David. The greatest sci-fi movies never made. Chicago Review Press, 2001.

James, Simon J. Maps of Utopia: HG Wells, Modernity and the End of Culture. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Lesnik-Oberstein, Karín. "Gender, Childhood and Children's Literature: The CIRCL Approach." Asian Women 32.2 (2016).

Starr, Mike. "" I flung myself into futurity": HG Wells’s Deleuzian time machine." (2015): 51-62.

Tsurumi, Kazuko. Social change and the individual: Japan before and after defeat in World War II. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Wells, Herbert George, Gregory Claeys, and Patrick Parrinder. A modern utopia. Penguin UK, 2005.

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