Knowing I have to start my blog, and not knowing how, I’ll begin right where I am:
Recently graduated, just finished reading a book I’d been lusting over for a year. Suspended in the disturbingly disorienting place between the glory of ‘I made it,’ the somberness of ‘it’s over,’ and the blind excitement of ‘what’s next?!’ on both planes.
Naturally, in these fluid states between motions — that somehow prove to be more constrictive than freeing, despite, or perhaps due to, the overwhelming emotional/mental leeway they offer — , we find ourselves sitting down, looking up at the stars, and asking, “Why? What’s the point of everything?”
Right? Just me?…
Okay, let me explain.
Of course having finally graduated from high school, my first act of freedom was to read a book NOT assigned by my English teacher. I read The Time Machine (1895), expecting a cool ahead-of-its-time science-fiction / fantasy novel much like The War of the Worlds (1898)…give or take the Tom Cruise (I’d prefer take.)
What I discovered, as I passed through the pages, was a perfectly packaged manifesto of the nineteenth-century visionary H. G. Wells’ expectations for humanity. The existentialist twinge, subtly detectable within The War of the Worlds‘ insinuation that the
human race was not alone, was probably not the best, and could be quickly smudged out of
existence, appeared in indisputable flashes within this piece. And no Tom Cruise flash-of-a-smile appeared at any junction to provide relief from the inferno.
No, I had no excuse to overlook what H. G. Wells was plating for me in what I’d thought would be a nerdy escapist retreat. Instead I fell into the familiar pensive abyss that had caught me many a sleep-deprived, desperation-filled school week during my high school career. This time, it was mixed with bittersweet admiration for the beautiful imagery that it was plopped into. But painting the stunningly detailed time travel experience was the least H. G. Wells could do in exchange for forcing me to question the significance of my life on a Monday morning.
If you haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil it for you yet, but I will mention a particularly sublime scene in which, amidst his struggle to return to his own time and his observation that the human race “had committed suicide,” (85) the Time Traveler suddenly stops to look at the sky…
“Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distances, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future.” — (H. G. Wells, The Time Machine, 65)
Thanks for the reminder that humanity is nothing but a coffee drip — not even that…a caffeine molecule — on the four-dimensional white t-shirt that is reality.
Suddenly my first sentence doesn’t make sense. You have to start a blog? Why? Why do you have to do anything? The answer is obvious: you don’t. As my seventh grade English teacher Mrs. Richardson always said, “You don’t have to do anything but breathe. After that you’ll die, and your body will decompose.” The inevitable truth. Eventually, I’ll become a part of the world’s stockpile of matter and probably end up partly in the atmosphere mixed in with exhaust fumes and partly in the sewage system, and the amoebas ingesting the particles that evaporated from my body won’t care what I did with my life. They don’t even have brains. How naive I was to think I had to write…But for now, I’ll return to the previous quote from H. G. Wells.
This could be considered a beautiful observation of the vastness of the universe and the relatively minuscule nature of our worldly concerns. This could be a good thing — a weight off of the individual’s shoulders. HOWEVER, the pessimism continues.
CAUTION: The following section contains an analysis and has spoilers. (If you aren’t acquainted with the book, am I discouraging you from reading on? No. Go read The Time Traveler — I recommend it — then come back. See you soon!)
H. G. Wells’ depiction of our future existence as humans says a lot about what he thinks of our species. Although it differs significantly from other modern fictitious portrayals of our future, I have to point out that he really nailed his interpretation of aliens and their technology in The War of the Worlds (1898), as far as sci-fi goes. As Steven Spielberg’s 2005 movie rendition of the book demonstrates, H. G. Wells’ aliens haven’t gone out of style after all of this time. If this guy could make an alien in the 1890’s that people in the 2000’s could still watch without laughing, whatever he has to say about us must be worth hearing.
Some modern movies/books, depicting futuristic societies, that come to mind are “Elysium” (2013), “The Giver” (2014), and “Oblivion” (2013). All three of these share similar characteristics to other modern depictions: dysfunctional societies resulting from monopolies on power, restrictions on freedom of the majority, and ultimately the culmination of human vices over an extended period of time on Earth.
The Time Machine is not unlike these except that, jumping forward to the year 802,701 A.D., it displays these inherent human defects not through societal developments, but as physical manifestations from the evolution of our species. The result is two different species, the ‘Eloi’ and the ‘Morlocks,’ that have diverged from the common ancestor: us. These inhuman beings are breathing metaphors for the same human traits that ensure our ultimate doomed fate as depicted in the former three stories. The gross metonymy is both beautiful and sad.
The Eloi are frail, happy, stupid, and helpless creatures with no sense of community. They are the direct result of luxury and a total lack of hardships. In this world, the human race has eliminated the need to survive by removing every obstacle that the world presents to challenge us…a mission that we are constantly and presently employed in. Disease has been eradicated, nearly every other species has been driven extinct, and beautiful Teletubbies-like fields, as well as the ruins of the formerly intelligent inhabitants of the Earth, are what remain.
The gluttonous race resulting from the human insistence to refine itself by setting itself “steadfastly towards comfort and ease” (85) demonstrates that the human race can only live while it is surviving, and once it no longer needs to survive, it ceases also to live and to exist. Now that the Eloi inhabit the grassy fields, there is nothing left of humanity to show for the achievements that led to that world characterized by effortless “ease and security” (29) and the absence “of struggle, neither social nor economical” (31).
The Morlocks, the other strain of human descendant that evolved from underground workers, suppressed by the Eloi’s ancestors to sustain their luxurious lifestyle, appear later in the novel to reveal that utopia is still just as realistic as we had thought. Mankind never really reached that state of total equilibrium, but instead the “ruinous splendor” (28) H. G. Wells depicts is the result of an oppressive aristocracy. The happy few danced in the sun, while their slaves toiled underground to eliminate their need to work. So Wells confirms the belief that there is no hope for us to reach that balance which we inherently strive for.
The Morlocks, ugly, ruthless killers, embody the evilness of Man — the very evilness that enslaved them. They represent only the unsympathetic desire to survive, an instinct which had completely died in the Eloi and yet which spawned them. The Eloi, although void of any trace of the hostile captors they originated from, represent human greed, and we find by observing them that as we get more of what we desire, we lose more of what we are as we “fade…into a contented inactivity” (33).
The artificial world mankind had created led to a 2-dimensional human. We had succeeded in all of our endeavors to optimize the world for our survival and ensure what we thought was our happiness, but we had overlooked “that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble,” (86) and that what make us human are our highs and our lows, our imperfections, and our failures — not equilibrium.
“The institution of the family, and the emotions that arise therein, the fierce jealousy, the tenderness for offspring, parental self-devotion, all found their justification and support in the imminent dangers of the young. Now, where are these imminent dangers?” — (H. G. Wells, The Time Machine, 32)
The evil Morlocks, the antithesis of the Eloi and everything we strive for including peace, security, and wellbeing — and described as disgustingly inhuman — maintained at least one very human trait: “initiative” (86). They maintained the will to live and to be. Although that is also what caused their savagery, that determination is much of what makes us human. In a way, it is beautiful.
And so maybe Mrs. Richardson was right, but maybe she was also just a bitter old lady. Not everything that is true is worth acknowledging, and, as demonstrated by the Eloi in H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, not everything that is achievable is worth achieving.
Why am I writing this blog? It definitely is not because I have to.
If anything, I’m exercising my ability to do and to fail, because without failure, there would be no reason to be.
Happy failures! 🙂
Cited: Wells, H. G. The Time Machine. USA: SoHo, 2013 (Original Published 1895). Print.