In a book saturated with many ideas it may seem strange to focus on the narrative device. However I believe that there may be more depth to the Time Traveller than just a story teller due to the outbursts of surprising language amongst the text along with his interesting relationship with Weena. Whether this protagonist is indeed an interesting character in his own right is what I shall explore in this essay.
The enigma behind the Time Traveller’s identity could suggest that he is indeed a narrative contrivance. However to me this ambiguity to me does not hinder his position as the protagonist of the Time Machine as it adds mystery to his character. For example, a superhero always keeps the identity of his alter ego a secret but does this mean that he is not a character in his own right? The inspector in An Inspector Calls (a play written in the same era by J.B. Priestley) remained an anonymous intruder, but he still manipulated the actions and thought processes of the other characters around him thus (along with his title in the heading) making him rightfully the protagonist of the play. Although the Time Traveller does not to a great extent affect the events in the distant future, he does have an effect on Weena’s emotions which would simply not have been there if he was solely a narrator.
The Time Traveller being a scientist is an observer, eager for discovery, to analyse, question and evaluate the situation. However this clinical approach is not always present as we see with his relationship with Weena. The rescue which unites them, (an almost clichï¿½d artifice) evokes a paternal sympathy within the Time Traveller. In Victorian times this was often felt by husbands as their wives were usually young and dependant upon them. This feeling is reinforced with Weena’s appearance as she is described as “a child” with “rotundity of limb”. (The Eloi’s lack of dimorphism too makes their race very childish and innocent.)
This emotion provokes illogicality (despite his being a scientist) within the Time Traveller, shown when he is describing Weena. For example he refers to her as a “poor mite” and “my (his) little woman”. I believe that this relationship would therefore not have occurred if the Time Traveller was purely a narrative device. His reaction towards her makes him a far more humane and interesting character as he shows empathy and warmth which goes beyond the descriptions usually given by a narrator.
Much of the description in the Time Machine is very methodical, and is written in lists of events and actions with little emotive language. Yet often this is contrasted by sudden and unusually placed words and phrases. For example; “And at last in one of the really airtight cases, I found a box of matches. Very eagerly I tried them. They were perfectly good. They were not even damp. I turned to Weena “Dance,”…” This unexpected command portrays a more irrational and therefore human side to the Time Traveller which I believe would not have been conveyed if the Time Traveller was merely a narrative device.
The spontaneity of the command shows him to be caught up in the excitement of his discovery. A narrator however would give a completely dispassionate response. This hint of an interesting character is also revealed when he is fighting off the Morlocks as he doesn’t just seem to defend himself by swinging the iron lever around in the hopes of getting away but he seems to take pleasure in his power over them and thrusts it where he “judged their faces might be”, feeling the “succulent giving of flesh and bone” under his blows. The use of “succulent” adds a grotesque image to the scene as it is normally used when describing food, giving a monstrous edge to the Time Traveller, which is once again unlike an ordinary narrative persona.
The Time Machine is not a fantastical story, but a book grounded in reality; a reality in which H.G. Wells was not entirely happy. H.G. Wells uses the Time Traveller in order to convey his political ideas. (Wells was a socialist born of working class parents and was also part of the Fabian movement.) In the passage where the Time Traveller corrects his second hypothesis he warns readers of the potential consequences of an upper class rule. His biblical language preaches to the readers Wells’ political stance; “Ages ago… man had thrust his brother man out of the ease and the sunshine.
And now that brother was coming back – changed!” .He speaks of the Morlocks (the lower class) who have been pushed underground and out of the sunlight at the Eloi’s hand. Wells’ description of these events in the remote future was not totally fabricated as servants’ sleeping in the basements of grand houses was a widely accepted and practised custom. However the use of a character to preach a political belief does not turn him into a narrative device. J.B. Priestley (author of An Inspector Calls) also conveyed his political ideas through the actions of the Inspector, but as I have earlier discussed the Inspector is still indeed the protagonist.
The Time Traveller (unlike the Inspector) does not seem to influence the other characters in the Time Machine significantly. He doesn’t play the heroic and almost clichï¿½d part most leading roles seem to play by saving Weena and the Eloi from destruction. Nevertheless, I believe that the Time Traveller’s abnormal and eccentric character adds significance to his role in the Time Machine. This along with the surprising language details and his relationship with Weena goes above and beyond what is considered to be normal for a narrative piece. Therefore, in conclusion, I believe that the Time Traveller to be rightfully the protagonist in this novel.