On the Origin of the Morlock Species

By Luke Meyer

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Flying cars. Soaring skyscrapers. Virtual reality. The abolishment of poverty, hunger, and war. These are popular images conjured up when one is asked about the future of the human race. With technology ever-improving and innovation ever-happening, society often assumes that progress is the direct result. This was a common assumption in the 19th century as well, as industrialization changed the world. Writers such as Herbert Sussman and John Ruskin, however, attempted to persuade their readers that change is not synonymous with progress. Specifically, as industrialization rose, the conditions of the working class worsened. Sussman shows the miserable living conditions of the working class, and Ruskin expresses the loss of individuality and the waste of intellect in the people. Elizabeth Gaskell and H.G. Wells go beyond describing the poor conditions of the working class to show a degradation in their character. In Mary Barton and The Time Machine, Gaskell and Wells present the oppressive forces of an industrialized economy as causing a loss of empathy and love in the being of laborers. People cannot lose something core to being human overnight, but the two novels viewed together show a frightening course in which the working class becomes a people without the care of one’s neighbor. Mary Barton and The Time Machine show two different points in time along the devolution of the working class. Gaskell expresses the power of man to change this course, whereas Wells presents humanity as doomed to this decline.

In Mary Barton, Gaskell shows that people, at their core, are empathetic and upright creatures, but oppression forces humans away from this goodness. The reader sees many instances of extreme kindness from the laborers of Manchester. Jem miraculously carries men out of a burning factory. Mary, Margaret, and Mrs. Davenport constantly care for Jane Wilson and Alice Wilson. John Barton sells practically everything he owns to support the Davenports, expecting nothing in return. Gaskell presents such admirable acts of love, which do not necessarily further the plot, to show the loving nature of the lower class. She must establish their original character, one of empathy, before she can show the degradation of it as a result of the industrial complex. After intense wage cuts and layoffs, the laborers go on strike and often are aroused to violence. This compassionate people have become “more like wild beasts than human beings” (Gaskell 177). The reader is shown the very early decay of morality. Gaskell leaves no room for confusion as to the cause of this decay, as the narrator replies to the barbarity of the laborers by saying “Well, who might have made them different?” (Gaskell 177). Gaskell, by directly implicating the masters, makes it clear that the oppression of the working class is the reason for this behavior. The character of John Barton best exemplifies this struggle to retain humanity amidst hardship.

The reader sees, through the character of John Barton, the devolution of the working class in its infancy. The reader understands the lower class to be in the beginning of its decline towards apathy because there is an intense struggle. Despite being beat down by the masters again and again, John Barton tries to hold onto his humanity. On his way to murder Harry Carson, John Barton goes out of his way to help a girl find her mother. The internal conflict between love and hate torments him as all his energy “seemed to have retreated inwards … to do battle against the Destroyer, Conscience” (Gaskell 341). Despite this struggle, John Barton commits homicide nonetheless. John Barton, always quick to help a neighbor and determined to better the lives of his fellow man, has committed an inhuman act. Gaskell shows that this savage act has made him something almost less than human. He refuses to eat, hardly moves, hardly talks, and seems “so strange, so cold, so hard” (Gaskell 192). Even the righteous John Barton has been so beaten down by the forces of industrialism to lose his compassion. The devolution of the working class, then, has most certainly begun. Although John Barton fights against this moral deterioration, 800,000 years of suffering have made it impossible to struggle any longer.

The Time Machine presents the culmination of the process started by the “John Bartons” of the industrial complex, in which the lower class has lost all semblance of empathy and love. Through this loss of compassion to their human nature, the Morlocks have devolved such that they are no longer human. The narrator expresses the lack of humanity in the Morlocks, saying “it was impossible, somehow, to feel any humanity in the things” (Wells 64). The direct comment by the narrator makes it clear that these creatures have lost what makes them human. The narrator had discovered that the Morlocks eat the Eloi with no remorse and, now understanding the lack of empathy in these creatures, has determined them to be inhuman. Countless generations of oppression had finally severed any ties the working class had to human kindness. The seeds of devolution that were planted during the industrial revolution have come to fruition in the Morlock species. The Morlocks are the descendants of John Barton. John Barton’s murder of his master has become common place in the Morlocks murders of their former masters. Thousands of years have rid the working class of the internal struggle that John Barton faced. The Morlocks even share physical similarities with their ancestor, which shows the shared inhumanity between the two. Barton’s act of apathy led him to be cold, pale, and largely unable to communicate with man. The same traits have been passed onto the Morlocks, although more extreme, just as their lack of goodness is more extreme. The Morlocks are the consequence brought by the oppression of the working class. Gaskell and Wells work well together in demonstrating this future of the working class, but they differ in how they view the power humanity has to change the course of the working class.

Gaskell is confident in the power of man to alter the trajectory of mankind. Throughout the entire novel, Gaskell displays individuals taking control of their future. The courageous actions of Mary Barton save her beloved from certain death. Margaret is able to bring her family out of poverty, and even restores her sight, through her own singing career. Jem overcomes losing his job and his damaged reputation by getting a great job on the other side of the world. The plot reveals Gaskell’s view on time. Individuals can take action and, when they act, the future is changed. She also makes her attitude on the power people have over time clear by manipulating the narrator’s relation to what is being narrated. As the masters discuss how to amend their relationship with the workforce, the narrator comments on the dilemma herself, saying that “No one thought of treating the workmen as brethren and friends, and openly, clearly, as appealing to reasonable men” (Gaskell 176). Gaskell offers a solution to prevent the further decay of the working class, to prevent the development of the Morlock species. A love must be shared between masters and laborers, and they must see each other as people. Gaskell is hopeful about the future of man because humanity has the capacity to change it, and all it requires is love. Wells, on the other hand, seeing the result of the devolutionary process, is much more pessimistic.

Wells presents humanity as helpless to change the developments of time. As a result, humanity is destined to follow a path to an end in which the care of one’s neighbor is a distant memory. Wells views time as a powerful constant. The Time Traveler may be able to jump in and out of time, but he cannot change it. He is basically just entering a series of spaces. The Traveler sees a horrible society in which mankind has lost what makes them human, but he is helpless to change it. The Traveler is unable to save Weena or explore the Underworld. He struggles mightily to find his time machine and return home. Time moves on as it had, regardless of whatever the Traveler did. The Time Traveler, understanding that his presence has no effect on the progression of time, writes his name on a statue in the museum. Although the Traveler has mastered the traveling of time, he conforms to time, not the other way around. He enters a future of savagery and apathy and instantly becomes subject to it. This man of high esteem and great intellect is helpless to the development of time as he “longed to kill a Morlock or so” (Wells 64). The Time Traveler involuntarily descends into the savagery of the time. As Wells describes books and artifacts decaying to dust and humanity ending even as time goes on, human accomplishment seems rather miniscule. Unlike Mary Barton, The Time Machine shows humans unable to affect the machinations of time, the lower class therefore being doomed to the tragic devolution that John Barton foreshadowed.

In Mary Barton and The Time Machine, Gaskell and Wells show that constant hardship and cruelty can chip away at the very integrity of a man. Although the development of the Morlocks may seem unrealistic, the nature of a degradation in the character of man is entirely valid. If a group of people, in this case the working class, is consistently not regarded as people, then, after enough time, they will begin to believe this and not see others as human beings. Although humanity may not result in the Eloi and the Morlocks, one cannot comprehend all that can change in 800,000 years. If millennia pass of people being treated like John Barton, then the world will most certainly be a colder and harsher home, to the point at which it can no longer be properly called a “home.” Gaskell believes it is up to mankind to determine its future. Wells views time as an immutable force, the future of man, whatever it may be, out of man’s hands. In order to live a fulfilling live, one must see the power of the individual as Gaskell describes in Mary Barton. This gives each person a sense of purpose and a motivation to take on life challenges because each and every person matters. Each and every person matters. By viewing time as Wells does, human beings are inconsequential specks occupying space for practically the blink of an eye. Believe that mankind is human beings, not specks of dust in the wind.