The Fear of the Fall: Degeneration and Social Inequality in the Frame Narrative of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Engelska institutionen


H. G Wells’s novel The Time Machine is a significant work of science fiction that dramatizes the themes of degeneration and social inequality, themes that were very relevant during the Victorian era in relation to the discovery of evolution. Degeneration was seen as the degradation of society into primitiveness far from the Victorian standards, and the problem of social difference, where the gap between poor and rich was very wide, became the visible proof of the difference between the evolved and civilized and the degenerated and primitive. The purpose of this essay is to analyse how the frame narrative, the story surrounding the main adventure, affects the theme of degeneration in the novel. The framework reveals the reactions of the people present at the dinner parties, where the Time Traveller recounts his journey into a degenerated future. The guests are all representing different factions of Victorian society, such as the Provincial Mayor, the Very Young Man and the Editor who all have their own motives and agendas in relation to degeneration, social differences and time travel. By examining the guests’ individual motives, the essay argues that they do not want to believe in time travel since it would include believing in a degenerated future where all the glory of their present-day Victorian era would crumble into chaos and pandemonium. This essay shows that by denying the relevance of the Time Traveller’s story, despite the evidence presented, the dinner guests are condemning themselves to the degenerated future they are afraid of, hence making the novel a warning example of not accepting new ideas.

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