The plot of The Time Machine, like much speculative fiction, exists as a frame for the ideas that the novel (or more correctly, novella) seeks to explore. Indeed, many of the concepts that the novel tackles are explicitly discussed by the narration of the Time Traveller himself, as he describes his experiences with the time machine.
The book opens in a scene of an after-dinner discussion between a group of professional gentlemen: a Psychologist, a Medical Man, a Provincial Mayor, a Very Young Man, the Narrator, a man named Filby and the Time Traveller himself. The Time Traveller is holding forth on his theories of time travel: "There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it" [Wells' italics] is the essential basis of his argument. The Time Traveller then produces a model of what he claims to be "a machine... that shall travel indifferently in any direction of Space and Time." He gets the Psychologist to push a lever on the model, and it promptly vanishes, causing consternation (and a fair degree of scepticism) amongst his guests. The Time Traveller claims that the model had travelled in time, and then shows his guests a larger machine in which he intends to travel.
The following week, the Psychologist, Medical Man and the Narrator gather at the Time Traveller's house, along with an Editor, a Journalist, and a Silent Man. The Time Traveller is not present, but they follow instructions to begin their meal. Halfway through the meal the Time Traveller appears, dishevelled and half-lame, and begins his remarkable story.
The Time Traveller tells of his sensations as he travelled through thousands of years into the future in his recently finished time machine. Upon stopping he finds himself next to an enormous sphinx-like statue set upon a bronze pedestal. The year, we later learn from the dials of his machine, is 802,701 AD. The Time Traveller then encounters "a very beautiful and graceful creature... indescribably frail." He then meets more of these creatures, which he is later to discover are called Eloi. They live carefree lives in an apparent Utopian paradise of a future "Golden Age". He appears to have "happened upon humanity on the wane" where biological evolution through natural selection has taken the humanity of a world purged of troubles and dangers to produce a future-race characterised by indolence and lack of intellect.
After dinning - on fruit - with the Eloi and beginning to explore this future world, the Time Traveller discovers his machine has disappeared - apparently dragged into the bronze pedestal through a doorway that he is unable to open. He then rescues a female Eloi from drowning. He discovers her name is Weena, and over the course of his adventure, he is to become quite attached to her. After a couple of half-sightings, the Time Traveller discovers that this future world is also the home of another species of future-man who live underground, emerging at night from a series of wells that rise up from the ground. He speculates that the two species of man have evolved from "the gradual widening of the present merely social difference between Capitalist and Labourer," played out over an evolutionary timeframe.
Convinced that the under-world creatures - Morlocks - have taken his machine, the Time Traveller descends to their underground caverns but has to escape, empty- handed. Like the upper-worlders the Time Traveller comes to fear the dark and loathe the Morlocks. He considers the relationship between the two races and realises that the once-subservient Morlocks now prey upon the Eloi, who have become "mere fatted cattle."
The Time Traveller takes Weena to explore a large Palace of Green Porcelain, but it is further than he thought and, with darkness approaching, his and Weena's fear of the Morlocks grows. They spend the night safely, but the Time Traveller resolves to devise a way to ward off the Morlocks. In the palace, which turns out to be a ruined museum, the Time Traveller finds matches, camphor and a metal bar to use against the Morlocks. Returning from the museum, the Time Traveller and Weena are forced through tiredness to rest in a forest. Although the Time Traveller sets fire to the trees to ward off the Morlocks, the two are attacked and Weena is taken. The Morlocks, however, are blinded by the raging fire. The Time Traveller returns to the Eloi and finds his time machine. The Morlocks attempt to trap him, but he escapes. The Time Traveller goes on through the future to discover a world where the sun
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